India’s Vikram lander was very near making its proud creators the fourth country in history to touch down on the Moon — but it was not to be, and the craft was lost. Now India has a bit of closure: The remains of the lander have been located on the Moon’s surface.
After the accident, the United States’ Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter made a pass over the intended landing zone and snapped some pictures. Shanmuga Subramanian, an engineer in Channai, India, was poring over them when he noticed what appeared to be the marks of debris.
“Using the data I calculated and from ISRO’s live telemetry data, I deduced that it might be something like [2-2.5 kilometers around] the landing site,” Subramanian told India Today. He spent hours every day looking over imagery of the area. “I did find a small white little dot which was something different from the surroundings. When I compared with old images from 2010, I found this was not there, so I thought, it has to be a piece of the lander.”
He emailed his findings to NASA, which got back to him a short while later confirming what he had found. ISRO had originally said the lander impacted 500 meters from its intended landing site, and the actual point was some 750 meters to the northwest.
Closer inspection by experts revealed the impact site itself, as well as a number of pieces of debris and the trails they left in the lunar soil as they tumbled.
It’s little comfort for ISRO and the agency’s supporters to see the parts of their cherished spacecraft scattered across the surface of the Moon, but it’s a visceral reminder of how incredibly close they got to making that mission a success, and how proud the country can be of that accomplishment.