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India's Attempt To Land Rover At Moon's South Pole Fails

Indian Space Research Organization employees react as they learn that mission control lost communication with its unmanned landing module moments before it touched down on the moon's south pole Saturday (local time.)

India's attempt to become the first country to land a robotic mission at the Moon's south pole has failed, after engineers lost contact with the Vikram lander — part of the Chandrayaan-2 probe.

Scientists at the Indian Space Research Organisation lost signal from the lander as it hovered over the surface, moments away from what would have been a successful soft-landing.

In a statement ISRO's Mission Control Centre provided a brief explanation of what went wrong, saying the unmanned landing module's "descent was as planned and normal performance was observed up to an altitude of 2.1 km. Subsequently, communication from Lander to the ground stations was lost."

"Data is being analyzed," ISRO added.

India's prime minister, Narendra Modi — who watched the final moments of the attempt — offered words of encouragement to the Chandrayaan team, which has been working on the $150 million project.

"India is proud of our scientists!" wrote Modi on Twitter. "They've given their best and have always made India proud. These are moments to be courageous, and courageous we will be!"

Scientists were hoping to land the robotic spacecraft between two craters about 375 miles from the moon's unexplored south pole.

The lander was supposed to release a small solar-powered rover equipped with instruments to collect and analyze the moon's 4-billion-year-old soil.

A successful touchdown would have vaulted India into an exclusive club of countries that have successfully completed a soft landing on the lunar surface. So far, only the former Soviet Union, the United States and China have accomplished it.

Several of the early U.S. and Soviet attempts at a soft, robotic, landing on the moon in the 1960s were unsuccessful.

Part of the Chandrayaan-2 mission, an orbiter, remains in operation.

Saturday's disappointing lunar mission comes a little more than a decade after India launched the Chandrayaan-1, a satellite that fired a projectile into the moon's South Pole in search of water.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Vanessa Romo
Vanessa Romo is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers breaking news on a wide range of topics, weighing in daily on everything from immigration and the treatment of migrant children, to a war-crimes trial where a witness claimed he was the actual killer, to an alleged sex cult. She has also covered the occasional cat-clinging-to-the-hood-of-a-car story.