The whole of India stayed up late on September 6th and wide awake in the wee hours of September 7th to watch the moon lander “Vikram” land on the moon. The Chandrayaan-2 spacecraft had entered the Moon orbit on 20th August 2019.
ISRO had big plans for Chandrayaan-2. The purpose was to explore the unexplored section of the Moon. It’s South Polar Region. Chandrayaan-2 helps us understand the origin and evolution of the moon. This would be done through detailed topographical studies, mineralogical analysis and a lot of other experiments.
On the day of the landing, the moon lander Vikram would separate from the Chandrayaan-2 orbiter and perform a series of complex manoeuvres. This comprises of rough braking and fine braking to achieve a soft landing on the moon.
Before Vikram landed on the moon, an imaging of the landing site would be done to identify a safe zone. Vikram would then land near the Moon’s South Pole on September 7th. The lunar rover Pragyan would then roll out of the lander and carry out experiments on the lunar surface.
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The moon lander Vikram’s heart-stopping descent was monitored on screen. This was complete with readings which reflected the movement of Vikram as it moved towards the surface of the moon.
Crores of people watched the descent Live on Television and Social Media as the landing was Broadcast Live. The landing went as planned through the first two phases of deceleration. The rough and fine braking went smoothly. The problems began in the hovering stage. ISRO lost contact with Chandrayaan-2 Lander Vikram, 400 meters above the moon. (It was widely believed that contact was lost 2.1 Kms above the moon).
ISRO chief K Sivan confirmed that communication with the lander was lost. The soft landing had failed. PM Narendra Modi joined the scientists 15 minutes before the descent began. He was briefed by Sivan on the setback. PM Modi hugged the emotional ISRO chief Sivan after the Chandrayaan-2 setback. PM Modi asked the scientists not to get disheartened. He said there would be a new dawn and a better tomorrow. Now to the big question? Was Chandrayaan-2 a failure?
The moon lander Vikram has been located on the moon’s surface. Efforts are on to establish contact with the moon lander. The camera from the Chandrayaan-2 orbiter has located the moon lander on the lunar surface. Now, ISRO has sent an update that 95% of the mission’s objectives have been achieved. So, why Chandrayaan-2 is a success?
For ISRO scientists the moon mission was a huge learning curve. ISRO has the best track record when it comes to launching successful space missions, better even than NASA.
ISRO was attempting a soft landing. The purpose was not to damage any instruments on the moon lander. The first braking took place 30 Kms above the moon. The fine braking just 7 Kms above the moon. All this was achieved. Things went wrong only at the hovering stage. This is why Sivan called it the 15 minutes of terror.
No space mission has come this close to the moon south pole. NASA, Roscosmos and CSNA have touched down near the moon north pole and equatorial region.
The Vikram lander and the Pragyan rover wasn’t the entire mission. The Chandrayaan-2 orbiter will remain in space for a year, passing over the moon and collecting valuable data. The moon lander and the rover would have functioned for just 14 earth days (1 lunar day).
The Chandrayaan-2 orbiter is functioning normally and is safe in the Lunar Orbit.
The Chandrayaan-2 had a budget of just Rs 978 crores. This was lower than the 2014 American epic science fiction Interstellar. It was made with a budget of $165 million, while Chandrayaan-2 cost $145 million.
The moon mission was run on a shoestring budget.
Chandrayaan-2 lander Vikram is intact, but just tilted very close to the planned landing site. ISRO has also said that it would extend the life of the orbiter from the planned one year to around 7 years. This is because there is sufficient fuel onboard the spacecraft. Chandrayaan-2 was a follow-up mission to Chandrayaan-1 which discovered the presence of water on the surface of the moon.
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