Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) chief Dr K. Sivan had, on several occasions over the past few weeks, mentioned that soft landing of Chandrayaan-2 lander Vikram on September 7 was the biggest challenge facing India's leading space agency, for it had never made such an attempt. They were going to be “fifteen minutes of terror,” in the words of Dr Sivan.
Late Saturday night, the nation was glued to television sets, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was at the ISRO centre in Bengaluru, and scientists monitored every movement of what could have been a historic landing. But India fell short of leaving its imprint on the moon by a little over 2.1 km. Vikram, the Chandrayaan-2 lander, lost communication with ground stations moments before it was supposed to land on the lunar surface.
The focus once again shifted to Dr Sivan, who made an announcement, the nation of 1.3 billion people hadn't possibly thought of.
He said the Vikram lander descent was as planned and normal performance was observed up to an altitude of 2.1 km.
Subsequently, communications from the lander to the ground station was lost, he said, adding the data was being analysed.
Hours later, Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed the nation and assured ISRO scientists that over a billion people stood by them. Twitter was flooded with wishes for Sivan and his team; love poured in from all around.
It was now time to take stock of what's still there. An ISRO official said that only 5% of the mission had been lost -- lander Vikram and rover Pragyan.
"The remaining 95 per cent - that is the Chandrayaan-2 orbiter - is orbiting the moon successfully," the official, who did not want to be identified, told news agency IANS.
With a mission life of one year, the Orbiter can take several pictures of the moon and send it to the ISRO.
The Orbiter can also take pictures of the lander to know its status, the space agency official said.
The Chandrayaan-2 spacecraft comprised three segments - the Orbiter (weighing 2,379 kg, eight payloads), 'Vikram' (1,471 kg, four payloads) and 'Pragyan' (27 kg, two payloads).
On September 2, the Vikram separated from the Orbiter.
On July 22, the Rs 978 crore Chandrayaan-2 was launched into space by India's heavy-lift rocket Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle-Mark III (GSLV Mk III) in a textbook style.
After five earth-bound orbit raising activities, Chandrayaan-2 was inserted into lunar orbit.
In the last stage snag, the communication link between the moon lander and the orbiter got snapped as the former was descending towards the moon's South Pole early on Saturday, throwing suspense over the mission's fate.
The ISRO is still analysing data and there is no official word on Vikram yet.
(With inputs from IANS)