By Sunil Garodia
There was heartbreak at ISRO as the Chandrayaan-2 lander, Vikram, lost contact with the earth station just 2 kms from landing. The nation, led by Prime Minister Modi, saluted the scientists at ISRO for a mission that nearly achieved a singular feat. But some things are destined not to be achieved easily. Since the scientists could successfully maneuver Chandrayaan-2 right up to the Moon and could launch Pragyan and Vikram after a set of complex maneuvers, the learning curve has expanded enormously. They will obviously find out what went wrong in the end and will make the landing with Chandrayaan-3 after rectifying the mistakes.
With the landing not taking place as planned, ISRO lost an opportunity to conduct its research on the Moon's surface. But the mission was enormously successful in other areas. To begin with, it allowed India to test technologies for deep space mission. The scientists had already made a huge achievement at the launch itself - Chandrayaan-2 was the first operational flight of the indigenously developed Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle Mark-III (GSLV Mark-III) to send up satellites weighing up to four tonnes. The scientists also successfully completed the steps to raise the orbit of Chandrayaan-2 to give it a velocity to escape the earth's gravitational pull. They successfully decoupled Vikram and Pragyan. They succeeded in first putting Vikram in Moon's orbit and then progressively reducing the orbit to bring it closer to its surface and make it ready for the landing.
The next step was to drastically reduce the velocity of Vikram from 6000 kms an hour to ensure a soft landing. The scientists did everything in copybook style and things were going as per plan when suddenly there was a dip in Vikram's flight path and it lost contact with the ground station. This could mean two things: either the braking and communication mechanism faltered in the end or, there might be a kind of 'extra' pull in the Moon's South Polar region where ISRO was trying to make the first-ever landing. The scientists at ISRO will definitely find the cause of the failure and learn from it but they have hugely expanded the frontiers of knowledge about deep space missions - for India and for the rest of the world, with this mission. They need to be saluted for this.