The Chandrayaan 2 mission was aborted just under an hour before takeoff.
India has postponed its dream of a soft landing at the Moon’s South Pole and cancelled the start of its second lunar mission on Monday local time less than an hour before the start.
The Chandrayaan 2 mission was aborted when a “technical hook” was observed in the 580-ton, 14-storey launch vehicle system, said Indian Space Research Organization spokesman B.R. Guruprasad.
The countdown stopped abruptly at T-56 minutes, 24 seconds, and Guruprasad said the agency would soon announce a revised launch date.
Chandrayaan, the word for “moon boat” in Sanskrit, is intended for a soft landing on the other side of the moon and for the deployment of a rover to explore water deposits confirmed by a previous Indian space mission.
As nuclear-armed India is about to become the fifth largest economy in the world, the passionately nationalist government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi is anxious to demonstrate the country’s efficiency in terms of safety and technology. If India were to make the soft landing, it would be only the fourth country to do so, after the US, Russia and China.
Dr. K. Sivan, Chairman of the Indian Space Research Organization, said last week at a press conference that the $140 million US Chandrayaan-2 mission was the nation’s most “prestigious” yet, partly due to the technical complexity of the soft landing on the lunar surface – an event he called “15 terrible minutes”.
After the countdown began on Sunday, Sivan visited two Hindu shrines to pray for the mission’s success.
Virtually since its inception in 1962, India’s space program has been criticized as unsuitable for an overpopulated, developing nation.
But decades of space exploration have enabled India to develop satellite, communications and remote sensing technologies that help solve everyday problems at home, from predicting fish migration to predicting storms and floods.
With the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission this month, the world’s largest space agencies are again looking to the Moon, which is considered the ideal testing ground for space exploration technologies and, with the confirmed discovery of water, a possible pit stop on the way there.
“The moon is something like our backyard for Mars training,” said Adam Steltzner, NASA’s chief engineer responsible for its 2020 mission to Mars.
Due to repeated delays, India missed the opportunity to make the first soft landing near the Moon’s South Pole. The Chinese Chang’e 4 mission landed there in January last year with a lander and a rover.
The Indian Chandrayaan-1 mission orbited the moon in 2008 and helped confirm the presence of water. ISRO wants the rover of its new mission to continue exploring the other side of the moon, where scientists believe a basin contains water ice that could help humans do more than place flags on future manned missions.
The US is working to send a manned spaceship to the Moon’s South Pole by 2024.
Modi has set a 2022 deadline for India’s first manned space flight.