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Nobody seems to know if India’s Moon lander survived its crash landing

Published Sep 11th, 2019 6:05PM EDT
chandrayaan 2 lander
Image: NASA

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Everything seemed to be going splendidly for India’s space agency last week as excitement was building for the anticipated touchdown of the Chandrayaan-2 lunar lander. Years and years of planning had put India in the perfect position to claim a spot on the short list of countries to achieve a soft landing on the Moon, but that all changed just moments before the spacecraft was destined to land.

The spacecraft went silent just minutes before it was supposed to safely touch down on the Moon, leaving its handlers back on Earth scrambling to save it. Now, with India’s lunar orbiter having spotted the crashed lander from above, there’s one question on everyone’s mind: Is it alive?

Some early reports suggested that the spacecraft was still in one piece despite crashing, with unnamed sources claiming that the lander was near its intended landing site but was tilted onto its side rather than sitting upright.

ISRO — the Indian Space Research Organization, which is essentially India’s NASA — noted on Monday that it was still attempting to establish communication with the lander after spotting it resting on the surface. No additional updates have come down the pipe since, which isn’t a great sign.

If any of this sounds familiar it’s likely because this is almost exactly what happened to Israel’s Beresheet lander when it made its landing attempt back in April. The spacecraft experienced a shutdown shortly before landing and, rather than gently touching down, it slammed into the lunar surface. The vehicle was a total loss.

In the case of Chandrayaan-2, the likelihood that the spacecraft is still even partially operational is a long shot. Even if ISRO spotted the area where the lander impacted, it wouldn’t be enough to determine the extent of the damage the lander sustained, and the fact that it remains silent suggests it’s likely down for the count.