BENGALURU, Sept 7 - India�s bold bid to become only the fourth country to achieve a soft landing on the Moon ended in a huge disappointment on Saturday when contact with Chandrayaan-2�s landing module was abruptly lost seconds before it was to descend the final 2.1 km and touch down on the lunar surface.
As crestfallen scientists of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) here struggled to come to terms with the reverse after lander Vikram was on steady course to touch the lunar south pole, Prime Minister Narendra Modi led the nation in rallying behind them, saying they should not get disheartened.
India also would have been the only country to land on the Moon�s unexplored south pole as part of the Rs 978-crore Chandrayaan-2 mission that was conceived a decade ago.
Modi, who addressed the scientists on Saturday morning at the ISRO Mission Control Centre (MCC) complex for the second time in six hours, asserted in words of comfort that there will be a �new dawn and brighter tomorrow� and the best is yet to come in the country�s space programme.
�We came very close but we need to cover more ground in the times to come. Learning from today will make us stronger and better. The nation is proud of our space programme and scientists. The best is yet to come in our space programme. There are new frontiers to discover and new places to go. India is with you,� Modi said.
The process of controlled descent starting with the rough braking of the 1,471-kg lander named after Dr Vikram A Sarabhai, father of the Indian space programme, to fine braking (till the altitude of 2.1 km), which the scientists considered �complex and terrifying�, culminated with a statement that contact with Vikram was lost.
While millions of people waited with bated breath to witness the lander�s touchdown after the mission was launched on July 22 to flawlessly cover nearly 4 lakh kilometres in 47 days in multiple manoeuvres, a mood of gloom descended over the control centre after ISRO chairman K Sivan made a sombre announcement in the presence of the Prime Minister after some tense moments.
�Vikram lander descent was as planned and normal performance was observed up to an altitude of 2.1 km. Subsequently, communication from the lander to ground stations was lost,� said Sivan, his voice choking. �The data is being analysed,� he said at the control centre at the ISRO�s Telemetry, Tracking and Command Network (ISTRAC) here.
The lander�s progress was greeted with applause at the control centre, where 60 high school students from across the country were also present, each time it crossed a critical phase for the planned soft-landing at around 1:55 am. The last 15 minutes of the mission when the lander attempts to guide itself with the help of its own propulsion system without any support from ground control has repeatedly been described by Sivan as �15 minutes of terror�.
A senior ISRO official said the four-legged lander and the six-wheeled rover Pragyan housed inside that was planned for a roll-out between 5:30 am and 6:30 am to carry out experiments may have been lost. The Chandrayaan-2 orbiter is, however, healthy and safe in the lunar orbit, another official said, in some relief to the space agency.
If Vikram had pulled off the historic touchdown, the country could have joined the US, Russia and China in soft-landing on the lunar surface.
The mission life of the 2,379-kg orbiter is one year and its payloads will conduct remote-sensing observations from a 100-km orbit.
According to US space agency NASA�s �Moon Fact Sheet�, the success rate of lunar missions undertaken in the last six decades is 60 per cent. Of the 109 lunar missions during the period, 61 were successful, while 48 failed.
Modi, who arrived here Friday night to watch the touchdown of Vikram, gave a morale boosting pep talk to scientists immediately after the setback. �I see disappointment on your faces. No need to get dejected. We have learnt a lot,� Modi said.
�These are moments to be courageous, and courageous we will be! We remain hopeful and will continue working hard on our space programme,� he said and later gave a tight hug to an emotional Sivan, who was in tears, unable to come to terms over the unsuccessful bid.
Hours later, the Prime Minister again delivered a message of optimism, solidarity and hope to scientists in an address, which was broadcast live, after contact with the lander was lost.
President Ram Nath Kovind expressed confidence that the ISRO will one day overcome the setback.
Chief ministers of different states, leaders of all political parties, including Rahul Gandhi of the Congress and the film industry extended their solidarity to the scientists. Messages of encouragement for ISRO scientists flooded the micro-blogging site Twitter as well. � PTI