India’s space program yesterday suffered a huge setback after it lost contact with an uncrewed spacecraft moments before it was due to make a historic soft landing on the moon.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi sought to comfort glum scientists and a stunned nation from the lunar program’s command center in Bengaluru, saying that India was “proud” and clasping the visibly emotional mission chief in a lengthy bear hug.
The emerging Asian giant had hoped to become just the fourth country after the US, Russia and regional rival China to make a successful moon landing, and the first on the lunar South Pole after the mission’s launch in July.
Photo: AFP / Indian Press Information Bureau
However, early yesterday, as Modi looked on and millions watched with bated breath nationwide, Vikram, the lander named after the father of India’s space program, went silent just 2.1km above the lunar surface.
“The Vikram lander descent was [going] as planned and normal performance was observed,” Indian Space Research Organisation Chairman Kailasavadivoo Sivan said.
“Subsequently, the communication from the lander to the ground station was lost,” he said in a stunned operations room. “The data is being analyzed.”
However, the Chandrayaan-2 (“Moon Vehicle 2”) orbiter, which is to circle and study the moon remotely for a year, is “healthy, intact, functioning normally and safely in the lunar orbit,” the agency said.
Freshly re-elected Modi had hoped to bask in the glory of a successful mission, but he deftly turned into consoler-in-chief in a speech at mission control broadcast live on TV and to his 50 million Twitter followers.
“Sisters and brothers of India, resilience and tenacity are central to India’s ethos. In our glorious history of thousands of years, we have faced moments that may have slowed us, but they have never crushed our spirit,” Modi said.
“We have bounced back again... This is the reason our civilization stands tall,” he said. “When it comes to our space program, the best is yet to come.”
Chandrayaan-2 took off on July 22 carrying an orbiter, lander and rover almost entirely designed and made in India, a week after an initial launch was halted just before blastoff.
The agency had acknowledged before the soft landing that it was a complex maneuver, which Sivan called “15 minutes of terror.”
It was carrying rover Pragyan — “wisdom” in Sanskrit — which was due to emerge several hours after touchdown. The rover was expected to explore craters for clues on the origin and evolution of the moon, and also for evidence on how much water the polar region contains.
The Chandrayaan-2 space mission — India’s most ambitious so far — stood out because of its low cost of about US$140 million.
The US spent the equivalent of more than US$100 billion on its Apollo missions.
India is preparing Gaganyaan, its first crewed space mission, with the Indian Air Force on Friday announcing that the first level of selection of potential astronauts was complete.
The South Asian nation also hopes to land a probe on Mars.
In 2014, it became only the fourth nation to put a satellite into orbit around the Red Planet.
FORCED LABOR: Customs officials have seized a 11.8 tonne shipment of products made from human hair on suspicion they were produced by people facing human rights abuses Federal authorities in New York City on Wednesday seized a shipment of weaves and other beauty accessories suspected to be made out of human hair taken from people locked inside a Chinese internment camp. US Customs and Border Protection (CPB) officials said that 11.8 tonnes of hair products worth an estimated US$800,000 were in the shipment. “The production of these goods constitutes a very serious human rights violation, and the detention order is intended to send a clear and direct message to all entities seeking to do business with the United States that illicit and inhumane practices will not be tolerated in
JUST QUESTIONS: Expelled reporter Ai Kezhu said that every member of Southeast Television had complied with the law and had not appeared on any talk shows Two Chinese reporters yesterday left Taiwan after the government revoked their accreditation and ordered them to leave amid a probe into allegations that several Chinese media outlets have set up studios and produced political talk shows in Taiwan. The two reporters — Ai Kezhu (艾珂竹) and Lu Qiang (盧薔) — worked for Fujian Province-based Southeast Television and arrived in Taiwan in December last year. The Mainland Affairs Council has launched an investigation after local media reported that Chinese broadcasters — including China Central Television, Southeast Television and FJTV — had set up studios in Taipei and produced political talk shows. Council Deputy Minister
UPTICK IN NUMBERS: The Taipei deputy mayor said the city has services to assist new immigrants, but has established an office specifically to help those from Hong Kong The Taiwan-Hong Kong Services and Exchanges Office today officially opens, where it is to provide humanitarian assistance to Hong Kongers, after Beijing yesterday passed a controversial national security law for the territory. President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) expressed dismay over China’s passage of the law, saying that Beijing has broken its pledge to allow Hong Kong to maintain a high degree of autonomy for at least 50 years following its handover from the UK. “I feel extremely disappointed [about the law’s passage], which means China did not keep its promise to Hong Kong,” Tsai said in Taipei. Beijing’s “broken promise” also
‘SIGNAL TO ALLIES’: The US Navy’s exercises are not in response to those carried out by China, the commander of the strike group led by the USS ‘Ronald Reagan’ said Two US aircraft carriers were yesterday conducting exercises in the disputed South China Sea, the US Navy said as China also carried out military drills that have been criticized by the US Department of Defense and neighboring states. China and the US have accused each other of stoking tension in the waterway at a time of strained relations over everything from COVID-19 to trade to Hong Kong. The USS Nimitz and USS Ronald Reagan were carrying out operations and exercises in the South China Sea “to support a free and open Indo-Pacific,” the navy said in a statement. It did not say exactly