India loses contact with Moon lander

Bangalore, India, Sept 7 (AFP/APP):India’s space program suffered a huge setback Saturday after it lost contact with an unmanned spacecraft moments before it was due to make a historic soft landing on the Moon.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi sought to comfort glum scientists and a stunned nation from the lunar program’s command centre in Banglalore, saying India was “proud” and clasping the visibly emotional mission chief in a lengthy bear hug.

Blasting off in July, the emerging Asian giant had hoped to become just the fourth country after the United States, Russia and regional rival China to make a successful Moon landing, and the first on the lunar South Pole.

But in the early hours of Saturday India time, as Modi looked on and millions watched with bated breath nationwide, Vikram, the lander named after the father of India’s space programme, went silent just 2.1 kilometres (1.3 miles) above the lunar surface.

“The Vikram lander descent was (going) as planned and normal performance was observed,” Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) chairman Kailasavadivoo Sivan said.

“Subsequently the communication from the lander to the ground station was lost,” he said in a stunned operations room. “The data is being analysed.”

The Chandrayaan-2 (“Moon Vehicle 2”) orbiter, which will circle and study the Moon remotely for a year, is however “healthy, intact, functioning normally and safely in the lunar orbit,” the ISRO said.

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