Chandrayaan-2: A defining moment for millions

Students watch live telecast of Chandrayaan 2 at ISRO Telemetry Tracking and Command Network (ISTRAC) prior to the soft landing of Vikram module of Chandrayaan 2 on lunar surface,in Bengaluru. (PTI Photo)

Millions of Indians worldwide were glued to their television screens, mobile phone screens and the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro)’s website and social media platforms, awaiting one defining moment: The Chandrayaan-2 Lander’s soft-landing on the Moon’s surface early Saturday.

For Isro, the soft-landing would be a masterstroke, a feat achieved only by the erstwhile Soviet Union, the United States and China. But a landing on the South pole would be a first, a matter of immense pride for all Indians.

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At the Isro Telemetry, Tracking and Command Network (ISTRAC) in Peenya here, the mood was electric. Most former scientists were confident that the soft-landing would be an emphatic success. They had a clear basis for that confidence: The 2008 Chandrayaan-1 mission that placed an Orbiter flawlessly.

Over 70 schoolchildren, selected by the Isro after an online quiz had gathered at ISTRAC. Excited by the presence of a galaxy of scientists and Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself, they knew this was their best time ever. History was about to be made right before them. The young space scientist in each of them was raring to go higher.

For Isro chairman K Sivan, a successful landing would mean a deserving end to “15 minutes of terror”, his oft-quoted remark on the complicated powered descent of the Lander, Vikram. The mood inside the ISTRAC control room reflected that tension, anxiety and razor-sharp focus on the controls.

Ever since the Chandrayaan-2’s first planned launch on July 15 was aborted in the eleventh hour due to a technical snag, the mission has followed a flawless path with remarkable finesse. The scientists achieved every critical manoeuvre with great precision.

That focus appeared to reflect even on the heightened security at the ISTRAC complex on Friday night, barely two hours before the scheduled landing. An entire road was cordoned off, and the men in khaki were everywhere.

It was as if they did not want anything to come in the way of the landing, even if Earth was over three lakh kilometres away from all the action.

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