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Chandrayaan 2 – A story of success

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Pragnya Patnaik
Author, Columnist, Social-Activist, Editor and former Software professional

Two days after going incommunicado, Vikram, the lander of Chandrayaan 2 has finally been spotted by the Orbiter. The news comes as that much needed potion of relief for a country that was collectively dismayed at the loss in link with the lander and was praying hard for it’s life.

On the night of 7th September (IST) the whole world waited with bated breath and heightened spirits to witness a historical moment, when Vikram, the lander of Chandrayaan 2 would be soft-landing on the surface of the moon. Unfortunately, just about 2.1 km short of the final destination it deviated from the planned trajectory and subsequently lost contact with the control room. The mission had not wholly delivered what it had intended to, but that night it did something that had never happened before in this country. It brought an entire nation together, no not for a cricket match or a war, but for science.

We were devoutly praying for the success of our scientists who had invested their time, sweat and soul for this mission and for our country which was preparing to step into an area not yet discovered- the south pole of moon. We were hoping it to join the elite club of countries that have soft landed on the moon (So far only USA, Russia and China have managed this feat). And yes, even the children remained wide awake at 2 a.m. in the night to witness this historic moment!

The Prime Minister was present in person with team ISRO. Excitement and nervousness had gripped the air and was palpable from the expressions of the scientists in the control room and even the Prime Minister. There were prayers and wishes. The young and the old across the country watched in anxiety from their living rooms as the lander prepared for it’s final moments of descent. The last fifteen minutes was crucial, as Dr. K Sivan, the director of ISRO had aptly put “fifteen minutes of terror”, and in the last leg of these fifteen minutes was where the control was lost, pulling an entire nation into an aura of dismay. Subsequently the information from ISRO that the mission has achieved about 95 percent success was a boost for everyone. And now that the lander has been traced unharmed, we are just hoping that the connection is re-established with Vikram.

Chandrayaan 2 is an indigenous project that was developed entirely in India. The assemblage consisted of an Orbiter, a lander and a rover. The lander was named Vikram after Vikram Sarabhai, the Indian scientist, astronomer and physicist, who was the founder of Indian Space research Organization (ISRO). The rover was called Pragyaan, which means wisdom, a word synonymous with ISRO. The primary objective of the mission was to demonstrate soft landing on the moon and study for presence of water-ice and minerals.

In November 2007, an agreement was signed between ISRO and Roscosmos (Russian Federal Space Agency) to work on the Chandrayaan 2 project together. As per this agreement ISRO was to develop the orbiter and rover, while Roscosmos was to provide the lander. ISRO performed according to schedule but as Russia was unable to deliver the lander on time, the mission was postponed to 2016 from 2013. When later due to the failure of the Forbes-Grunt mission to mars, Russia intimated that even by 2015 it would not be able to supply the lander (as it was using the same technology that was used in the Forbes-Grunt mission), India decided to built its own lander and thus took a decision to develop the mission independently. The decision by ISRO to go solo might have required a lot of grit and determination.

Chandrayaan 2 the second lunar mission of India is an ambitious project. It aimed for soft landing on the south pole of the moon, an area that hasn’t been explored so far. Since it was an area that is yet to be walked-on, the challenge faced by ISRO was different and tougher. So for attempting to go into an area where none had before is no mean achievement.

The gesture of solidarity shown by our Prime Minister who lent his support and shoulder to ISRO Chairman Sivan when the latter lost control of his emotions, will go down as an immortal human-touch moment in the history of space science in this country, only next to that famous communication between our former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and Squadron leader Rakesh Sharma from space. When asked how India looks from space by Gandhi, Sharma had replied “Saare jahan se achcha.” The embrace of comfort by Narendra Modi speaks a lot about the ethos of this land – of how we are united and will stand for each other in moments of glory and loss. The picture also showed where two people from humble beginnings have reached in this country and in fact leading the country towards a better tomorrow. Modi and Sivan are the real heroes of today’s India and a source of inspiration for all of us.

For us Indians the Chandrayaan 2 is not just another space mission, but it will go down in history as an event that inspired an entire nation to believe in itself and to stand together in good and not-so good times.

And as I answer my seven year old son’s curious questions about Vikram, Pragyaan and the Chandrayaan 2 mission, I can see the strong impact it has had on our young minds. As per scientific standards this mission may not have achieved a hundred percent success rate but it definitely has surpassed any absolute number by igniting thousands of young minds. And who knows, tomorrow these young minds may go on to follow the footsteps of our heroes at ISRO and discover newer areas and scale greater heights!

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Pragnya Patnaik
Author, Columnist, Social-Activist, Editor and former Software professional
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