The dot meant Vikram lander for Chennai techie Shanmuga

 Shans said his findings were nothing when compared to the “huge work” done by ISRO by sending a second unmanned mission. DH Photo/ETB Sivapriyan

For many who scoured through a set of pictures posted by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) on Indian’s second lunar mission, Chandrayaan 2, a dot in them could have meant nothing, but being an avid space enthusiast, 33-year-old Shanmuga Subramanian knew it was something more than what meets the eye.

Tracking Chandrayaan 2 from its inception stage, Shanmuga Subramanian spent 40 hours over four to five days by doing a side-by-side comparison of two images – an old image of the same spot and the new image released by NASA – to arrive at a conclusion that the dot he found could be the Vikram lander.

 

“When I zoomed in on a particular picture posted as a blog on the NASA website, I had an inkling that it could be the debris of Vikram lander. Taking a cue, I kept working six to eight hours a day for the four to five days by zooming in on the image further,” Shans, as Shanmuga Subramanian calls himself, tells DH.

 

 

Chandrayaan 2, which took off on July 22, dropped the unmanned lander Vikram which went silent when it was just 2.1 kilometres above the surface. Though the mission was a failure, the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) said it had located the lander but couldn’t establish communication.

 

At his modest apartment in upscale Besant Nagar here, Shanmuga was swamped by journalists to record his experience on “finding the Vikram lander”. His phone was put on the busy mode as the software engineer, who works for a US-based firm here, even sought permission from the journalists to sip a cup of warm water and have a quick lunch.

Though he did B.E. (Mechanical Engineering) from the Government Engineering College in Tirunelveli, this Madurai-born youth took up the job at a software firm. “Just like there is no connection with my current job to what I studied in college, there is no link between what I do for a living to what I found,” Shans says with a loud laugh.

Asked what the findings meant for Chandrayaan 2, Shans said: “It is nothing but a closure. We knew the Vikram lander crash-landed. But now there is a confirmation on where it crash-landed.”

Being modest at his glorious times, Shans said his findings were nothing when compared to the “huge work” done by ISRO by sending a second unmanned mission. “This would help the ISRO plan the Chandrayaan 3 with much more precision planning and achieve our ultimate aim,” he said, adding that no one from the ISRO had contacted him so far.

The image that Shans worked on was clicked by NASA on September 17 and was posted on the website on September 29. From September 29 to October 3, Shans burnt the midnight oil after coming from work to find out what the white-colored dot meant. The job wasn’t easy for Shans as the images released by NASA weren’t of high resolution.

“Thanks to the public data that was available, I could process the pictures closely using an image processing software and arrive at a decision. 15 days after putting out the tweet, I wrote to NASA formally on October 18 explaining my findings with proof. After more than 50 days, I received a reply on Tuesday about finding Vikram lander and NASA crediting me for this feat,” he says.

To a question on why NASA or ISRO couldn’t find the lander, Shans said it could just be an oversight. Generally, the lunar images are quite dark, and one can’t easily say whether any dot was a boulder or a stone. “Manual processing of the image worked quite well for me. Though it was painful to go through the images block by block, I could achieve something which others couldn’t,” he said.

Ask Shans why he thinks NASA took more than 50 days to revert to him, pat comes the reply. “You can't expect NASA to blindly believe an amateur space enthusiast. They would have done their due diligence before replying to my mail and giving credit to me,” Shans said.

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