Vikram, the lander of Chandrayaan-2, which blasted off in July, was scheduled to soft-land on the lunar south pole early Saturday. While its descent began as planned, communication with it snapped minutes before touchdown, leading to heartbreak across the nation.
An emotional Sivan was hugged by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. In his address to the nation, Modi told the space agency that the entire country was proud of it. Support for the scientists leading India’s ambitious but scrappy space exploration efforts poured in from across the world. “You have inspired us,” NASA said in a tweet commending the Indian space agency’s efforts.
The multiple payloads abroad Chandrayaan-2 for conducting scientific experiments included a NASA payload. India had hoped to become the fourth country after the United States, Russia and China to land on the moon. The mission, which the agency described as “highly complex,” was aiming to land in the previously unexplored south pole region. The goal was to look for water on the moon and study its topography.
The success rate of landing on the moon is about 50 percent. Earlier this year, an Israeli spacecraft, Beresheet, attempting to land on the moon crashed in its final moment.
India’s homegrown and low-cost space exploration program has notched previous successes. In 2014, it became the first country to reach Mars on its first attempt, making space for itself in the elite global space club. It has announced plans to send its first manned mission to space by 2022.
India’s first moon mission, Chandrayaan-1, launched in 2008 and was instrumental in the discovery of water molecules on the lunar surface.