India lost communication with its spacecraft attempting to land on the moon early Saturday, appearing to miss its shot for now at becoming the fourth nation to do so.
As Prime Minister Narendra Modi and dozens of scientists looked on from a space center in Bangalore ― and at least hundreds of thousands watched live from around the world ― the nation’s space program lost communication with a lander descending toward the lunar south pole.
“For the last few hours, the entire nation was awake,” Modi said in a televised speech to the nation at the center later. “We were awake in solidarity: in solidarity with our scientists who had embarked on one of the most ambitious missions of our space program. We came very close, but we will need to cover more ground in the times to come,” he added, apparently giving up the unmanned mission as lost.
A consoling Modi encouraged India to look forward to “many more opportunities to be proud and rejoice ... the best is yet to come.” He praised the “professionals who have given your best always and will give us several more opportunities to smile.”
The descent of a lander in the Chandrayaan-2 space mission had been “as planned and normal” until an altitude of about 1.3 miles, after which communication from the spacecraft to the ground stations was lost, according to the India Space Research Organization’s mission control center. “Data is being analyzed,” the group added.
“These are moments to be courageous, and courageous we will be!” he added.
As it became clear in the space center that communication had been lost, some scientists in the room could be seen with their heads in their hands.
An orbiter with the mission is still in operation, according to The New York Times.
The Soviet Union was the first to land a spacecraft on the moon in 1959. Americans then made the first manned-mission landing on the moon in 1969. And earlier this year, China succeeded in the first landing on the moon’s far side.
“We remain hopeful,” Modi tweeted after India’s apparent mission failure on Saturday. “And will continue working hard on our space programme.”
This article has been updated with a speech from the prime minister.