NASA and amateur space enthusiast find lost Indian moon lander

NASA, with some vital help from a space enthusiast, has found India’s Vikram lander, which was lost on its final approach to the Moon.

NASA image taken by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter showing the impact site of the Vikram lander.
Image credits NASA.

Back in September, the Vikram lander was close to landing on the Moon — and then it disappeared. However, the mystery was solved. In an announcement on Monday, NASA released an image taken by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) showing the final impact site of the spacecraft. The find was made possible thanks to the efforts of one amateur space enthusiast.

Shoot for the Moon

“It was quite hard, but (I) spent some effort,” Shanmuga “Shan” Subramanian, a 33-year-old IT professional from Chennai and self-professed space nerd who found the lander.

“I had side-by-side comparison of those two images on two of my laptops. On one side there was the old image, and another side there was the new image released by NASA,” he said, adding he was helped by fellow Twitter and Reddit users.

Back on September 26, NASA released a mosaic image of the site where the lander was believed to have crashed, inviting the public to compare them with images of the same site taken before the lander’s crash. Subramanian was the first to spot the craft. In an interview with AFP, he explained that it was NASA’s inability to find the lander that sparked his interest.

NASA checked Subramanian’s findings by performing additional scans of the area and officially announced the news on Monday, some two months later. A version of the picture mosaic picture, one marked up to show the debris field generated by the crash, was released with the announcement. Parts from the craft landed in almost two dozen locations spanning several kilometers.

“NASA has to be 100% sure before they can go public, and that’s the reason they waited to confirm it, and even I would have done the same,” said Subramanian.

India launched the Chandrayaan-2 (“Moon Vehicle 2”) lander back in July, aiming to become the fourth country to make a successful Moon landing after the United States, Russia, and China; the vehicle was also intended to be the first one to even touch down on the lunar south pole.

The mission consisted of a main spacecraft that would stay in orbit around the Moon and drop the unmanned lander Vikram onto its surface. The drop was estimated to take five days, and everything went pretty swimmingly until ground control lost contact with Vikram went silent just 2.1 kilometers above the surface.

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