As ISRO figures out what happened to the Vikram lander of Chandrayaan-2, after it lost contact with the ground station barely a few hundred metres above the Moon in the early hours of September 7, a NASA probe is expected to reveal new information once it flies over the landing site on Tuesday.
NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) is also likely to release the images that it takes of the lander, the US media reported. “NASA will share any before and after flyover imagery of the area around the targeted Chandrayaan-2 Vikram lander landing site to support analysis by the Indian Space Research Organisation,” spaceflightnow.com quoted Noah Petro, the LRO’s project scientist, as saying.
At ISRO, meanwhile, a top official told The Indian Express that the presence of the Prime Minister at the space mission’s command centre in Bengaluru and his promise of unambiguous support will shape the organisation’s next step.
In this context, a senior official involved with the PM’s visit that night revealed unknown details of what he called were the “transformative” hours leading to “those hundred seconds” when realisation dawned that the soft-landing had gone awry.
Official sources said Modi landed in Delhi early on September 6 from an official trip to Russia, and slotted back-to-back engagements in Maharashtra (September 7) and Haryana (September 8) — but wanted to be at the ISRO centre that night.
On the flight to Bengaluru, sources said, the PM was busy with paperwork that remained or was carried over because of his Russia trip. “The mood was optimistic when the Prime Minister’s aircraft touched down at the Air Force Station in Yelahanka at around 9 pm,” sources said.
Based in a hotel near the ISRO Telemetry, Tracking and Command Network (ISTRAC), Modi met the children who had won the MyGov Space Quiz, and left for ISRO at around 1 am. A few minutes after 1.50 am, however, it became evident that things were not going to plan, and ISRO chairman K Sivan rushed to inform the Prime Minister in the visitor’s gallery.
Modi moved to a lounge adjacent to the viewing station where he first told Sivan to stay calm and not lose hope, assuring him that the entire nation stood with the scientists, sources said. After this, they said, he moved to the room where the scientists were stationed, and told them to “be courageous”.
“I will go back to the scientists tomorrow morning. Call the ISRO chairman and fix the time,” the Prime Minister is learnt to have told his aides after returning to the hotel. His aides, meanwhile, alerted the Maharashtra government about the impromptu change in schedule.
Sources said the Prime Minister “kept up a brave face” but “was awake through the night, putting his thoughts down, calling aides”. They said he had jotted down in Gujarati and Hindi his message for the scientists the next morning.
Later, on the flight to Mumbai, the Prime Minister is learnt to have told his aides that he had seen the “strength of India, and those who make it” at the control room in Bengaluru.
The Chandrayaan-2 orbiter has since located and taken thermal images of the lander on the Moon but ISRO has so far not provided any details of its condition. “There is no update as of now. As you know, we are still trying to establish contact,” an ISRO official said.
With ENS inputs