India’s historic attempt to become the fourth country to land a probe on the moon on Saturday appeared to end in failure after mission command lost communications with a lander in the final moments before landing.
The Chandrayaan-2 lunar exploration mission featured both an orbiter, which remains operational, and the Vikram lander, which may have been lost during the landing attempt. The Vikram lander carried a lunar rover, Pragyan, which was meant to explore the south pole of the moon.
While the lander was about 2.1 kilometers above the surface of the moon, the Indian Space Research Organization’s ground command center abruptly lost communications, suggesting the lander may have tumbled and crashed. An electronic communications glitch is also possible, but less likely.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who traveled to the southern Indian city of Bengaluru to witness the landing attempt, congratulated the ISRO scientists for the mission, saying “There are no failures in Science, only experiments and experiences.”
“1.3 billion Indians are with @isro,” Modi said in a subsequent tweet. “They make us proud with their resilience and spirit of exploration.”
The Chandrayaan-2 mission was launched on July 22. ISRO used a Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle Mark III for the launch.
The failure of the Vikram lander marks the second failed moon landing attempt this year. Earlier in the year, an Israeli lander crashed on the moon’s surface. In January, China successfully landed the Chang’e 4 lander on the far side of the moon.
ISRO has emphasized the continued mission of the Chandrayaan-2 orbiter, which may outlast its planned lifespan by several years.
In a statement after the loss of communication with the Vikram lander, ISRO said that the “precise launch and mission management” of the Chandrayaan-2 mission will extend the orbiter’s lifespan.
The Chandrayaan-2 mission cost a total of $141 million, which is considerably lower than similar missions carried out by the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The Indian space program has made a name for itself by conducting successful, low-cost commercial space launches.
The U.S. Department of State issued a statement congratulating India for the attempted landing.
“We congratulate @ISRO on their incredible efforts on #Chandrayaan2. The mission is a huge step forward for India and will continue to produce valuable data to fuel scientific advancements. We have no doubt that India will achieve its space aspirations,” Acting Assistant Secretary at the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs Alice Wells said in a tweet.
Other world leaders and diplomats also congratulated ISRO on the landing attempt.