Almost after three months since it went incommunicado during the final stages of the Chandrayaan 2 mission on September 7, the NASA has finally located ISRO’s Vikram Lander on the moon surface. And the man behind the unravelling of the biggest mystery in India space history is a 33-year-old space enthusiast who worked independently and found the debris of the Vikram lander on the surface of the Moon, that several scientists have been painstakingly looking for.
NASA has credited Shanmuga Subramanian (Shan), a mechanical engineer and a computer programmer based in Chennai, for helping it find ISRO’s Vikram Moon lander debris on the lunar surface.
In a post on its website early on Tuesday, NASA has said its moon mission has discovered the remains of India’s Vikram Lander and identified the debris spotted by Subramanian with an “S” on its image.
— NASA (@NASA) December 2, 2019
According to NASA, it’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC) had released the first set of pictures of the Vikram lander contact site on September 26 and many people had downloaded the mosaic to search for signs of Vikram and Shanmuga was one of them.
Shanmuga Subramanian, hailing from Madurai in Tamil Nadu, works as an app developer at engineering company Lennox India Technology Centre in Chennai. He is an engineering graduate from the Government Engineering College in Tirunelvelli.
The techie from Chennai told IANS on Tuesday: “It was something challenging as even NASA can’t find out so why can’t we try out? And that’s the thought that led me to search for Vikram lander.”
Equipped with just his laptop, Subramanian said he worked for up to seven hours every day in his Chennai apartment in his mission to locate the lander. “I narrowed my search to 2 square kilometres. I used only a laptop and searched all the images,” he said.
During the random searches at his spare time, Shanmuga noticed a white speck around the Moon touchdown site pictures released by NASA. This bright pixel, he said, was not visible in earlier images released by the space agency.
“Is This Vikram Lander? (1 Km From The Landing Spot) Lander Might Have Been Buried In Lunar Sand?” Mr Subramanian had tweeted on October 3, tagging NASA and ISRO.
— Shan (@Ramanean) October 3, 2019
On November 17, he tweeted more details with two images of the crash site.
@NASA @LRO_NASA @isro
This might be Vikram lander’s crash site (Lat:-70.8552 Lon:21.71233 ) & the ejecta that was thrown out of it might have landed over here https://t.co/8uKZv7oXQa (The one on the left side was taken on July 16th & one on the right side was from Sept 17) pic.twitter.com/WNKOUy2mg1
— Shan (@Ramanean) November 17, 2019
“I had a side-by-side comparison of those two images on two of my laptops… on one side there was the old image, and another side there was the new image released by NASA,” he told a news agency. Subramanian also said that he was helped by other users on Twitter and Reddit.
Subramaniam was the first person to come up with positive identification. The Chennai-based technologist discovered debris about 750 m from the main crash site of the lander and informed NASA from whom he got a ‘good response’ said the engineer. “I did send a tweet to NASA and ISRO. I sent emails to a couple of NASA scientists. They were in charge of the LRO (Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter) images. I got a good response from them,” said Subramaniam.
Finally, almost after 3 months, NASA confirmed the Vikram lander debris location by comparing before and after images and credited Shanmuga for the same.
LRO Project Scientist Noah Petro said: “The story of this really amazing individual (who) found it, helped us find it, is really awesome,” adding that “He (Subramaniam) went through the image, looking pixel by pixel and found that spot.”
Thanking Subramanian for an interesting observation, Nasa’s deputy project scientist (LRO mission) John Keller said its LROC team confirmed that location did exhibit changes in images taken before and after the day of landing. “Using this information the LROC team did additional searches in this area and located the site of the primary impact as well as other debris around the impact location,” Keller wrote to Subramanian.
He also appreciated Shanmuga for his efforts. “Congratulations for what I am sure was a lot of time and effort on your part. You will probably get some enquiries from the press on your discovery.”
— Shan (@Ramanean) December 2, 2019
The Chandrayaan 2 mission, besides carrying an orbiter, had a rover and a lander, targetting safe touchdown on the surface of the moon through a controlled descent. Pragyan, the rover, was slated to roll out of the Lander onto the surface of the moon to conduct experiments and gather data.
On 7th September, Chandrayaan-2’s landing module had gone silent after Vikram Lander lost connection when it was merely 2 KMs from the landing surface of the moon. While ISRO was able to locate the lunar module in one piece, it had tiled a little because of the hard landing. On September 10, ISRO had announced that it had located the Lander but no communication has been established yet.