BENGALURU / Mumbai (Reuters) – India has lost contact with a spacecraft trying to land on the moon on Saturday, the space agency said, failing the nation's ambitious plans to become the first country to explore the unexplored moon pole.
The land of the Chandrayan-2 lunar mission was trying to "soft" or control, landing near the south pole of the moon where scientists thought there might be water ice. Communication was lost just when she was about to touch.
"Data is being analyzed," said K Sivan, chairman of the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), told the scattered scientists at the agency's tracking center in Bengaluru.
An Indian designed spacecraft orbiting the moon's orbit began to descend to the lunar surface around 2007 GMT, but scientists lost contact with it during the penultimate descent stage.
For a schedule of the planned spacecraft landing sequence, click here
Live broadcast by ISRO, NASA equivalent in India, showed that scientists were getting tense and the floor was silent as the control station struggled to get a signal from the lander,
"There are ups and downs in life … What you have achieved is no small feat," Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was present at the ISRO center, told scientists after being informed by Sivan.
ISRO did not comment further, but Modi hinted to the nation that the earth may have traveled at a higher speed than expected and the catastrophe landed on the moon.
"If historians one day write about today's incident, they will surely say that, inspired by our romantic description of the lifelong moon, Chandrayan rushed to embrace the moon in the last leg of the journey," he said.
"I can proudly say that the effort was worth it and that was the trip," Modi added.
In an emotional moment broadcast on television, Modi hugged and comforted Sivan's visibly broken heart.
"We are confident that as far as our space program is concerned, the best is yet to come," Modi said.
"15 Minutes of Terror"
Sivan had a -ran describes the landing points of the landing mission as "15 minutes of terror" because of the complexity associated with lunar gravity, terrain, and dust.
For a schedule of India's second lunar mission, click here
Only the United States, Russia, and China have landed on the moon. This year, the Beijing Chang-4 probe hit the far side while Israel made an unsuccessful attempt to land its Beresheet spacecraft on the moon in April.
The south pole is thought to contain water as the craters in the region are largely unaffected by the high temperatures of the sun. ISRO hoped to confirm the presence of water in the form of ice, first discovered in its mission in 2008.
Experts say the lander and rover are only part of the lunar mission, and the Chandrayan-2 orbit is still orbiting the moon and will collect and send back valuable data for a year.
Mukund Rao, CEO of the Center for Spatial Analysis and Advanced GIS, stated that there may be gaps in the moon landing planning.
"They have to go back to the drawing board and try it again," says Rao, an ISRO senior scientist for 24 years, who later joins private and non-governmental space projects.
He said that scientists need a deeper understanding of aspects such as braking and traction mechanisms as well as the terrain of the moon. It was important to analyze the data and find out what happened, Rao said.
India has additional ambitions in space.
Last year, Modi announced a 100 billion rupee project – called "Gaganyaan" – which aims to send a three-member crew into low-Earth orbit by 2022.
For a chart of potential landing sites for Chandrayan-2, click here
For a chart of successful lunar soft landing sites, click here
Reporting by Chris Thomas and Ismail Shakil in Bengaluru and Abhirup Roy in Mumbai; Editing by Michael Perry and Darren Schutler