NEW DELHI — A day after India lost contact with a robotic spacecraft that was launched toward the moon’s South Pole, the chairman of the country’s space agency said on Sunday that the lander had been detected on the moon’s surface.
K. Sivan, the director of the Indian Space Research Organization, told Asian News International that a thermal image had been taken by the Chandrayaan-2 mission’s orbiter. He said it was still unclear whether the lander was damaged, though he expected it had had a “hard landing.”
“We are trying to establish a contact,” he was quoted as saying.
For years, Indian engineers have prepared for a moon landing near the unexplored South Pole, where scientists believe water or ice may exist. A successful landing on the moon would have made India the fourth nation to accomplish such a feat, after the United States, Russia and China.
The lander carried a six-wheeled rover, the Indian flag, and equipment to determine the composition of moon rocks and make other measurements. The communications delay with the spacecraft across such a distance — the moon is more than 200,000 miles from Earth — meant that the space agency had limited control over the landing.
The cost-effective mission has stirred a strong sense of patriotism in India. Before the lander’s rapid descent early Saturday, people gathered for packed viewing parties, and a news channel live-streamed a choir singing a Hindi song, “Saare Jahan Se Accha,” or “Better Than All the World.”
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has cited the Chandrayaan-2 mission as evidence of India’s increasing global importance in science and technology. He flew to the city of Bangalore on Friday evening to watch the landing attempt from the space agency’s control room.
But communication was cut at an altitude of 1.3 miles. It appeared that the lander had been traveling too quickly during the descent, when it had around 15 minutes to slow from 2,000 miles per hour at a starting altitude of about 20 miles.
Silence fell over the control room, and scientists slumped over their desks. A widely shared video filmed later Saturday showed Mr. Modi embracing Mr. Sivan, the space agency chairman, as he began to cry.