Fate of Indian moon lander uncertain after communications loss

India would have been 4th country to land spacecraft on moon

By Emilee Speck - Digital journalist

Hoisting of Vikram lander during Chandrayaan-2 spacecraft integration at the launch center in India. Communication with the lander was lost Sept. 6, 2019 as Vikram attempted to land on the surface of the moon. (Image: ISRO)

India's attempt to land a spacecraft near the moon's south pole did not go as planned Friday after communication with the lander was lost, and its fate remains unknown.

The Indian Space Research Organisation launched the Chandrayaan-2 spacecraft carrying the Vikram lander on July 22 from Bangalore, India. After successfully putting the Chandrayaan-2 spacecraft in orbit around the moon, the Vikram lander began its daring descent to the moon, surface Friday afternoon.

Everything was going well at first as the spacecraft began slowing down for a soft landing but communication with Vikram was lost when the spacecraft was about 1 mile above the lunar surface.

"Vikram descender descent was as planned and normal performance observed up to 2.1 km,"  ISRO Chairman Kailasavadivoo Sivan said. "Subsequently, communications was lost. Data is being analyzed."

ISRO ended the livestream of the landing, saying the team would continue to try and communicate with the spacecraft. It's unclear if it crashed or something else went wrong.

Chandrayaan-2 will continue to orbit the moon for about a year. The lander named for the founder of the Indian space program was designed to last about 14 Earth days on the surface.

The lander was also carrying a small moon rover called Pragyan equipped with two navigational cameras and an x-ray spectrometer. The six-wheeled rover would have rolled out from Vikram and traveled up to 500 meters from the lander scanning rocks and soil to determine the material's composition.

What would have been a historic moment for India revealed the challenges of landing on another world.

"India is proud of our scientists! They've given their best and have always made India proud. These are moments to be courageous, and courageous we will be!" Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in a tweet. "We remain hopeful and will continue working hard on our space programme."

The effort marked the third time this year a country outside the U.S. attempted to land a spacecraft on the moon. China's lander Chang'e-4 touched down on the far side of the moon earlier this year. An Israeli nonprofit's lander crashed on the moon's surface in April.

Only the U.S., Russia and China have successfully landed spacecraft on the moon.

NASA plans to return humans to the moon as soon as 2024.

Copyright 2019 by WKMG ClickOrlando - All rights reserved.