Is the Chandrayaan-2 mission really a failure? Well, no one in the world of space science other than a few in our own backyard have said so. A few days ago, one of the leading English newspaper of India, on its front page, gave space to a few voices who thought that Chandrayaan-2 was not a success. Let us delve a bit into the allegations levelled against the ISRO (Indian Space Research Organisation) scientists who had spearheaded Chandrayaan-2.
Genuine Concern or Propaganda?
According to Tapan Mishra, adviser to the ISRO chairman, the cause for failure is leadership. He comes out on social media and shares his thoughts on leadership and rocket science. Another “senior scientist” explains, “moon landing was the stated high point of the Chandrayaan-2 mission” and so according to him as the project did not succeed in moon landing and the success of Chandrayaan-2 is a laughable matter.
Another scientist, who has not been named in this mischievous news report, claims he has experience on moon missions and alleges that the “failure” of Chandrayaan-2 is because of a technical mistake. Now after all that has happened, he advises that ISRO should have used single thrust engine rather than five. All these responses came after ISRO chairman Dr. K. Sivan said Chandrayaan-2 was 98% successful.
Look at the pattern of statements coming from a bunch of scientists and the priority with which such comments are given space by a few media establishments. It seems as though their sole intention is to denigrate and undermine the name and fame of ISRO. They emerge as fringe voices who do not have the best interests of the advancement of science and technology in the country. It is evident that for them, their publicity is more important than a nation’s mission. Giving space to such voices on the front page of a national newspaper confirms that there is indeed a nexus to undermine ISRO. Why? Because ISRO has won accolades from the scientific fraternity from the world over. National and international experts have come out in support of ISRO and the efficacy of the mission. This ‘front page’ agenda to defame ISRO’s efforts and mission surely indicate attempts at nefarious propaganda against an institution that is India’s pride.
All those who measure the success of Chandrayaan-2 only on the basis of Vikram Lander’s soft landing on moon’s surface, need to answer a simple question: Which country in the world succeeded in its first attempt to land on the moon?
Success doesn’t come without learning and learning is a by-product of failure. JK Rowling, the famous British author in her Stanford speech had said, “If you have not failed in your life then by default you are a failure.”
Today we have enough details to look into the journey of Chandrayaan-2 and study the mission from various aspects. If one looks at the graph of moon Lander’s descent, it is almost perfect as per the calculations by ISRO scientists. Moreover, the scientific journey of Chandrayaan-2 is not merely about the final 300 meters, rather about the findings and learning from the journey of the mission. It is about all those 3,84,000 km —the distance of moon from earth.
Let us look into the history of moon missions. Till date, only three countries on this planet have been able to perform a soft landing on the moon’s surface — USA, Russia (erstwhile USSR) and China. And, till date, no country in the world has ever landed on the southern pole of the lunar surface.
The southern pole of the lunar surface is of special interest to the scientific community due to indications about the possible presence of water and ice in that region. ISRO dared to do it in it’s very first ever attempt and we must be proud of it. It is timely to recall that NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) had to endure eight unsuccessful attempts and two partially successful missions before it could successfully land of moon’s surface. On record, it says that there were 17 unsuccessful attempts by NASA before it was able to successfully land on the moon’s surface and take first images of the moon.
Similarly Russia (erstwhile USSR) landed on the surface of moon only after six unsuccessful attempts. In the history of lunar missions, only about 50% of the missions have been successful. With such data at our disposal, how can one say that Chandrayaan-2 mission was a failure?
Let us also look at the aspect of the cost of the mission. USA spent $288 billion (considering inflation) on Apollo-11 mission which aimed to send humans on the moon. Whereas Chandrayaan-2 cost us merely $147 million! All other countries who have attempted to reach the moon have spent exponentially more than what ISRO and India have spent on the Chandrayaan missions.
Moon landing is a different ball game
Moon landing is not easy. Israel tried and failed. Japan pushed forward and paused. Even the European Union explored it and exited. But no one has been as accurate as ISRO in the mission parameters.
In the case of a software or a hardware there is an ecosystem for one to test, validate and redesign a system. Space missions aren’t like this and there are no ready-made testing or staging environments. It is all about predictions of an unknown territory and unknown environmental conditions. The real test happens in the space itself.
When an object is in space, humans cannot control its behaviour and it has to deal with its own algorithms. When somebody who claims to be a scientist and terms Chandrayaan-2 a failure, then they must remember a simple point: In science there are no failures but there is always a learning. Learning from each mission adds not only to better equip future missions but also adds to the country’s technological repertoire.