India Loses Contact With Moon Lander

Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) employees react as they watch the live broadcast of the soft landing of spacecraft Vikram Lander of Chandrayaan-2 on the surface of the Moon at ISRO Telemetry, Tracking and Command Network (ISTRAC) centre in Bangalore early on September 7, 2019. MANJUNATH KIRAN / AFP


India’s space programme suffered a huge setback Saturday after losing 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 mission control in Bangalore, saying India was still “proud” and clasping the visibly emotional space agency head in a lengthy 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 local time, as Modi looked on and millions watched nationwide with bated breath, the Vikram lander — named after the father of India’s space programme — went silent just 2.1 kilometres (1.3 miles) above the lunar surface.

Its descent had been 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 after initial applause turned to bewilderment at the 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.

– Consoler-in-chief –
Freshly re-elected Modi had hoped to bask in the glory of a successful mission, but on Saturday he deftly turned consoler-in-chief in a speech at mission control broadcast live on television and to his 50 million Twitter followers.

“Sisters and brothers of India, resilience and tenacity are central to India’s ethos. In our glorious history of thousands of years, we have faced moments that may have slowed us, but they have never crushed our spirit,” he said.

“We have bounced back again,” he added. “When it comes to our space programme, the best is yet to come.”

Other Indians also took to Twitter to offer words of encouragement. “The important thing is we took off and had the Hope and Belief we can,” said Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan.

Indian media offered succour by quoting a NASA factsheet that said out of 109 lunar missions in the past six decades, 48 have failed.

Chandrayaan-2 took off on July 22 carrying an orbiter, lander and rover almost entirely designed and made in India — the mission cost a relatively modest $140 million — a week after an initial launch was halted just before blast-off.

ISRO had acknowledged before the soft landing that it was a complex manoeuvre, which Sivan called “15 minutes of terror”.

It was carrying rover Pragyan — “wisdom” in Sanskrit — which was due to emerge several hours after touchdown to scour the Moon’s surface, including for water.

According to Mathieu Weiss, a representative in India for France’s space agency CNES, this is vital to determining whether humans could spend extended periods on the Moon.

That would mean the Moon being used one day as a pitstop on the way to Mars — the next objective of governments and private spacefaring programmes such as Elon Musk’s Space X.

‘Space superpower’

In March Modi hailed India as a “space superpower” after it shot down a low-orbiting satellite, a move prompting criticism for the amount of “space junk” created.

Asia’s third-largest economy also hopes to tap into the commercial possibilities of space.

China in January became the first to land a rover on the far side of the Moon. In April, Israel’s attempt failed at the last minute when its craft apparently crashed onto the lunar surface.

India is also preparing Gaganyaan, its first manned space mission, and wants to land a probe on Mars.

In 2014, it became only the fourth nation to put a satellite into orbit around the Red Planet, and in 2017 India’s space agency launched 104 satellites in a single mission.

The country’s principal scientific adviser, K Vijay Raghavan, described Chandrayaan-2 as “very complex, and a significant technological leap from previous missions of ISRO” in a series of tweets on Saturday.

Raghavan said the orbiter will help India better understand the Moon’s evolution, mapping minerals and water molecules “using its eight state-of-the-art scientific instruments”.

“After a moment of despondency, it is back to work!! It is inspirational to see this characteristic of science in collective action. Kudos to ISRO,” he added.

ISRO in a late Saturday statement said that the orbiter’s “precise launch and mission management has ensured a long life of almost 7 years instead of the planned one year.”

“The Orbiter camera is the highest resolution camera (0.3m) in any lunar mission so far and shall provide high resolution images which will be immensely useful to the global scientific community,” it added.

India’s Top Court Steps In To Help Thirsty Tech Hub

Indian farm workers plant seeds in a field on the outskirts in Jalandhar on February 16, 2018. PHOTO: Shammi MEHRA / AFP


India’s water-starved tech hub Bangalore won a reprieve on Friday when the country’s top court altered a river-sharing agreement in its favour, ruling on a bitter dispute that dates back more than a century.

The Supreme Court said a 2007 ruling by a special tribunal on river-sharing had failed to take into account Bangalore’s growing water needs and awarded a greater share to the southern state of Karnataka.

Bangalore was once known as India’s garden city for its many lakes and parks but has developed a serious water shortage in recent years as workers have flocked there to take up jobs in the tech industry.

Known as the Silicon Valley of India, the Karnataka capital is one of the country’s fastest-growing cities with a population of more than 10 million.

The river-sharing issue has become hugely emotive in the city, which suffered deadly protests in 2016 when the Supreme Court ordered Karnataka to release extra water from the Cauvery river to ease a shortage in neighbouring Tamil Nadu.

Hundreds of companies were forced to close and public transport services were cancelled as thousands took to the streets.

Appasamy Navaneethakrishnan, the lawyer for the Tamil Nadu government in the case, said Friday’s ruling was a setback for the state.

“We will study the judgement in depth and we will take appropriate steps,” he told reporters outside the court.

The Cauvery rises in Karnataka and flows into the Bay of Bengal through Tamil Nadu.

Its waters — fed by India’s annual June to September monsoon rains — irrigate crops and provide drinking supplies for both Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.

The modern dispute began in 1974, when an 1892 agreement on the sharing of the waters lapsed.

That was the year when the British Madras presidency, now Tamil Nadu state, forced the Maharaja-ruled Mysore — modern Karnataka state — not to use the Cauvery waters without its permission.

A tribunal set up in 1990 awarded Tamil Nadu 419 billion cubic feet (11.9 billion cubic metres) of the estimated total of 740 billion cubic feet of Cauvery waters. Karnataka was given 270 billion cubic feet.

The two states have repeatedly resorted to legal action to win a bigger share of the waters.

Under Friday’s ruling, Karnataka’s share will increase to 285 billion cubic feet.


India Six-Year-Old Girl Raped By Staff Members

A sexual assault case was lodged indiaby a six-year-old schoolgirl who has been allegedly raped by two staff members at a prominent school in the southern India City of Bangalore.

The child was assaulted on July 2, but her parents discovered it only a few days after, when she complained of stomach ache and was taken to hospital.

According to BBC Hindi’s Imran Qureshi, the girl was allegedly raped by a security guard and a gym teacher, but with multiple guards and gym instructors in the school, they have been trying to identify the guilty.

As the news of the child’s rape became public, hundreds of parents gathered outside the school, protesting against the alleged insensitivity of the school management.

On Thursday, School Chairman, Rustom Kerawala, addressed a meeting of the parents where he offered his “sincere apologies” and promised “full cooperation” with the Police in investigation.

Scrutiny of sexual violence in India has grown since the 2012 gang rape and murder of a student on a Delhi bus, which led to a massive outrage in the country and forced the government to introduce tougher anti-rape laws, including the death penalty in rare cases.

The law has, however, failed to act as a deterrence. According to statistics from the National Crime Records Bureau for 2013, one rape was reported every 21 minutes in the country.

The new Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, has promised a zero tolerance approach on crimes against women, violence and discrimination.