Two space enthusiasts, Mr. Jag Mohan Saxena from Bikaner and Dr. Hari Mohan Saxena from Ludhiana have found the lost Indian Lunar Lander Vikram and Rover Pragyan, respectively lying intact and each in single piece on the surface of the Moon. After the failed communication of ISRO Mission Control and the Lunar Orbiter of Chandrayaan 2 mission with the lander during the last stage of landing on 7 September, 2019, many presumed that the lander was destroyed completely due to the impact of the uncontrolled harsh landing. This assumption was turned into firm belief when NASA posted picture of the lunar surface in December, 2019 showing tiny pieces of debris of the lander scattered in an area of several kilometers far away from the scheduled landing site. NASA even endorsed and validated the claim of spotting a tiny piece of debris of the lander by Mr. Shanmuga Subramanian, a techie from Chennai. Surprisingly, the ISRO neither refuted the claim nor verified it nor tried to stop the flood of news items published in the press and disseminated by the TV and the electronic media worldwide announcing the tragic end of the lander. Although the ISRO Chief K. Sivan had given a hurried press statement on 8 September, 2019, the very next day of the mishap, that a thermal image of the lander taken in the dark night by the camera onboard the orbiter has revealed that the lander was intact and in a single piece, he failed to show the image to the public. Even after one year of the incident, the ISRO has not released any image of the ill-fated lander. This lends further credence to the unfounded claim of the techie in the press which has not been verified or endorsed by the ISRO till date.
Interestingly, the NASA story contradicts the claim of the ISRO Chief and the ambiguity continues even till today leaving several questions unanswered. The NASA version of the story seems illogical even to a layman because the lander, losing contact with the Mission control merely 350 meters above the surface of the Moon (having only 1/6th gravity compared to the Earth) cannot lead to disintegration of the metallic lander into tiny pieces of a size hardly discernible by the orbiter camera and scattering in an area of several square kilometers far away from the scheduled landing site. If this was indeed true then how come the ISRO Orbiter find the lander intact in a single piece even in a dark night. However, the mystery deepens further when the ISRO fails to release to the press or post on its website any picture of the lander intact even after one year.
Sensing the ambiguity in the versions of the story propagated by the NASA and the ISRO, a retired banker and space enthusiast Mr. Jag Mohan Saxena initiated his own enquiry to find out the truth. He started scanning the vast imagery of thousands of kilometers of the lunar surface taken by the NASA Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) posted on its website. After several days of hard work, he could finally spot an unusual looking object near the scheduled landing site on the lunar surface which appeared to be different from a boulder and was likely to be a manmade object. He instinctively believed it to be the image of the missing lander. He tweeted the picture to ISRO and NASA scientists requesting them to verify and validate his finding. However, ISRO and NASA did not oblige.
Dejected by the discouraging response of the lunar experts, Mr. Saxena shared the image with his elder brother Dr. Hari Mohan Saxena, a retired Professor of Immunology based in Ludhiana who had earlier served as the Science Counsellor in the Embassy of India in Moscow. He also happens to be a space enthusiast and had even attended a short term space training program at the MIT in USA 32 years ago working on an international lunar base design project sponsored by the International Space University.
Dr. Saxena decided to pursue the investigation further to take it to a logical conclusion. Since the image received by him did not show any characteristic features, he enlarged it several hundred times and decided to get the image processed to get some more details. He asked his daughter Priyanka Saxena, an electronics engineer, currently pursuing PhD at IIT, Jodhpur to process the image for clarity. When she removed the haze and noise from the picture employing software and some algorithm and gave back the processed image to Dr. Saxena, he could recognize some features characteristic of the lander by comparing it with the pictures of the lander available on the web.
Encouraged by the success in identifying the lander, Dr. Saxena searched the LROC images acquired on different dates after the landing and could further consolidate the finding with topographic landmarks and images of the lander taken from different angles and directions. The images clearly indicated that not only did Vikram land on the Moon intact and in a single piece, it also delivered the rover on the lunar surface as evident from the unfolded ramp of the lander. During one of his careful searches of the vast imagery, Dr. Saxena could also spot the Lunar Rover Pragyan lying intact and in a single piece several meters ahead of the lander Vikram.
These findings clearly document the great success of ISRO scientists in successfully landing the Lunar Lander Vikram along with the Rover Pragyan in the South Pole of the Moon where no nation has reached before. Although the claims and stories of destruction of the lander propagated in the press and media succeeded in hogging the limelight, they misled the public. The endeavours of the two enthusiasts, Mr. Jag Mohan Saxena and Dr. Hari Mohan Saxena, who discovered the lander Vikram and the rover Pragyan, respectively unveiled the truth. The contribution of Priyanka Saxena was no less since revealing of the lander like features by image processing was the turning point in the discovery.