Following the adage 'Never Give Up,' 33-year-old Indian techie Shanmuga Subramanian has found the debris of Vikram, the Chandrayaan-2 mission's lander that crashed on the lunar surface in September, this year.
India's highly ambitious project, Vikram's success would have made it the fourth country in the world to have landed on the moon. But the historical moment couldn't be created as Vikram lost contact with the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) after its launch from Chandraayan 2 moon orbiter on September 6 while trying to make a soft landing near the moon's south pole.
Following the crash, several people had downloaded the mosaic image of the likely crash site made from pictures taken by the LROC on September 17, in a bid to locate the lander or its debris. During that time, NASA and the LRO project scientists, had expressed their inability to find the lander as the area in which the lander had crashed was in deep shadows.
The white dot that changed it all for Subramaniam
Spending sleepless nights ever since Vikram crashed, Subramaniam surfed through NASA's pictures of the lunar surface looking for a clue to find anything related to the lander only to find a white dot in the end, which unravelled the mysterious disappearance of the lander.
On December 3, NASA declared that debris from the crashed lander has been found. The space agency credited Subramanian for the first positive identification of debris. In the pictures showing the location of debris, NASA accredited Subramanian's finding with 'S' on the spots identified by him.
In its statement, NASA said: "Shanmuga Subramanian contacted the LRO project with positive identification of debris. After receiving this tip, the LROC team confirmed the identification by comparing before and after images."
Who is this wonder boy from India?
Hailing from Madurai in Tamil Nadu, Subramanian is an app developer working for an IT company in Chennai. A mechanical engineer by qualification, it was always space technology and rockets that fascinated the young lad. During a trip undertaken in college days, Subramanian visited the Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala based ISRO to witness the launch of a sounding rocket.
Speaking about his feat, the techie said it began with challenging thought that even the NASA can't find where the lander was. "It was something challenging as even Nasa can't find out [where the lander was] so why can't we try [it] out?"
After spending almost four to six hours every night going through images from NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbital (LRO) Camera, released to the public, innumerable images of lunar surfaces, it was in October that he found a white spot, possibly debris from the lander.
Subramanian had tweeted his discovery in October
To confirm his suspicion further, Subramanian scanned through pictures of the same spot for the last nine years to compare the changes. In fact, he had tweeted the before and after image of the spot. In his tweet on 3 October, he wrote: "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."
"I thought this might be the debris as it was not there in earlier images. I tweeted to NASA on October 03 and mailed them on October 18. I got confirmation from NASA Tuesday morning and I was very elated to receive that email because I spent a lot of time on that image each day," Shanmuga said.
"I was just waiting for the confirmation from Nasa," said the wonder boy about getting the nod from the space agency.
LRO team praises Subramanian's achievement
While Subramanian credits his achievement to Nasa's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LRO) team and its data, the LRO maintained that Subramanian's achievement is completely on his merits.
LRO Project Scientist Noah Petro said: "The story of this really amazing individual (who) found it, helped us find it, is really awesome. Subramanian is totally independent of the LRO, totally independent of the Chandraayan 2 team, just someone who is very interested in the Chandraayan 2 mission (who) used our data and identified a spot where there was a change that we had not identified. He went through the image, looking pixel by pixel and found that spot," Petro added."We received an email from Subramanian about his finding and that was used to help identify the spot where Vikram crashed," he said.
The Arizona State University (ASU), where the LROC project is located stated that after receiving the tip the team confirmed it to be the debris of lander after comparing before and after images.
"But two image sequences taken on October 14 and 15, and on November 11 were better. The LROC team scoured the surrounding area in the new mosaics and found the impact site and debris field. The impact site is located at 70.8810AoS, 22.7840AoE, at an elevation of 834 metres. The debris first located by Shanmuga is about 750 meters northwest of the main crash site," ASU said.
Congratulations for the young lad
As soon as the news broke social media went abuzz with congratulatory messages pouring in for the young techie. "Why aren't the headlines reading 'Indian engineer discovers Vikram Lander debris. NASA confirms finding?' Can't we give enough credit to our own tech wizards?," tweeted Anand Mahindra.
"Well done Shanmuga subramanian and @nasa . It's a great feeling that an indian found the debris of chandrayaan 2 . I hope till now @isro should detected the loopholes of mission fail, next time we will conquer on the moon..#Chandrayaan2 #NASA," tweeted another person.
"#VikramLander #Chandrayaan2 Thank you Shanmuga Subramanian @Ramanean for your discovery. You've made Indians proud. We finally know that #VikramLander did reach very close to the intended landing spot. @isro bring on #Chandrayaan3."
"@Ramanean thank you for finding the Chandrayaan 2 debris.
Have to admire your patience and perseverance !"
"It's an Indian who found Our #VikramLander" this giving me goosebumps @isro we tried We learned We will get success soon. :) Proud of you. Kudos, @Ramanean Bro. I saw ur confidence abt the location of Lander. We Appreciate your constant effort.