Eagle-eyed amateur helps NASA locate India’s Vikram Moon lander debris

Ross Houston
December 3, 2019

Mr Subramanian told New Delhi Television he worked for up to seven hours a day scanning through the lunar images.

The mechanical engineer and computer programmer was instrumental in helping NASA finding a piece of debris of ISRO's Vikram Lander of its Chandrayaan-2 mission on the lunar surface.

Several attempts have been made to discover Vikram lander after the ISRO lost touch with the lander shortly before its scheduled landing on September 7.

"I made a decision to search around 2×2 sq km area around the expected landing coordinates and concentrated my efforts north of landing point, as Vikram approached the (designated) area from the North Pole", he added.

The impact point shows up in this processed image as a group of dark rays with brighter material around it.

"NASA has to be 100% sure before they can go public, and that's the reason they waited to confirm it, and even I would have done the same", said Subramanian.

Vikram was supposed to land on a high plain between two craters, Manzinus C and Simpelius N, which are around 70° south. "(1 Km From The Landing Spot) Lander Might Have Been Buried In Lunar Sand?" He said NASA's inability to find the lander on its own had sparked his interest.

Subramanian said he sent an email about what he thought he saw to NASA on October 18 and again on November 20. I'll note that their Mars Orbiter Mission was their first attempt to go to and orbit the Red Planet, and they made it in one go, the first country ever to achieve that (Mars is notoriously hard to send probes to, and both the USSR and United States of America had many failed attempts before success).

Subramanian said he had always been excited by rockets as a child. "I got a good response from them".

Shanmuga Subramanian was able to find the debris only because NASA makes most of its data public.

"The story of this really incredible individual (who) found it, helped us find it, is really awesome".

After getting the tip-off, the LROC team confirmed the identification of the lander, which had been launched aboard the Chandrayaan-2 spacecraft in July. "Just have the images open side by side and go through pixel after pixel", he added.

After receiving Subramanian's tip, the LROC team confirmed the identification by comparing before and after images. The NASA spacecraft's first pass over the impact site occurred on September 17, and the LROC team published the resulting image later that month, even though they didn't think they had found any sign of the crash.

When the images for the first mosaic were acquired the impact point was poorly illuminated and thus not easily identifiable.

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