Chandrayaan 2 mission: So near, yet so far

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In the end, there was disappointment. It proved to be literally a case of so near yet so far. The ISRO spacecraft, Chandrayaan–2, failed to make the soft-landing just when it was 2.1 kilometers from the earmarked spot on the moon’s surface. Thirteen minutes after Vikram lander began its descent, programmed to reduce its speed from 6048 kilometers per hour to a mere seven kilometers per hour, the mishap occurred. On Friday night, the Prime Minister joined the ISRO scientists at its headquarters in Bengaluru to watch the thrilling moment. As the last second hitch derailed the perfect touchdown the entire country was excitedly waiting for, Modi shared the disappointment, consoling the scientists of the great success they had accomplished already by getting so close to the stated objective. Sixty percent of such missions undertaken by much advanced nations than India have resulted in failure. And that is true of the US, Russia, Israel, Japan, etc. The Prime Minister’s encouraging words did much to take the sting out of the failure. ISRO, meanwhile, is continuing its efforts to restore a link with Chandrayaan 2’s lander ‘Vikram’, but experts say time is running out and the possibility of re-establishing communication looks “less and less probable.”

Meanwhile, criticism that undertaking a space mission to moon for a poor country is a waste of money which could be better spent on alleviating people’s conditions is misplaced. Nations, like human beings, do not live by bread alone. Thanks to India’s space programme, we have stolen a march over many developing countries in satellite communications. Indeed, ISRO has successfully launched satellites of several other countries from its own platform. Exploring that part of moon to which no other space power has gone so far was indeed a very ambitious project. Finding ice-water on South Pole of the moon would have been a revolutionary discovery. That only the US, Russia and China, the last as late as early this year, have thus far landed on the moon itself is a matter of pride for all Indians, rich or poor, literate or illiterate. Again, a much less appreciated feature of the Indian space programme is the relatively low cost at which it is being conducted. The latest mission was undertaken at a fraction of the cost the NASA and other national space agencies routinely spend on similar missions.

As last Friday-Saturday morning’s events demonstrated yet again, the entire country was excited by the coming soft-landing on the surface of the moon. Nobody could have prompted the ordinary people to feel pride in the collective scientific achievements of our space community. Of course, ISRO will examine the cause of the last-second failure, but there is certainly no need for dejection. Having accomplished so much, ISRO can be trusted to undertake necessary corrections and launch the proud mission yet again. It can do it. The entire country has trust in its capabilities.

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