India's space program suffered a major setback on Saturday after it lost contact with an unmanned spacecraft just before a historic soft landing on the Moon was made.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi sought to comfort gloomy scientists and a stunned nation from the lunar program command center in Bangladesh, saying that India was "proud" and hugged the visibly emotional mission chief in a long bear hug.
By taking off in July, India hoped to become the fourth country after the United States, Russia and its regional rival China made a successful landing on the Moon, and the first on the lunar South Pole.
But in the early hours of Saturday, India time, while Modi watched and millions watched breathlessly throughout the country, Vikram, the landing module named after the father of the Indian space program, was silent to only 2.1 kilometers above the lunar surface.
"The descent of the Vikram landing module was (going) as planned and normal performance was observed," said the president of the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), Kailasavadivoo Sivan.
"Subsequently, the communication from the landing module to the ground station was lost," he said in a stunned operating room. "The data is being analyzed."
The Chandrayaan-2 orbiter ("Lunar Vehicle 2"), which will circulate and study the Moon remotely for a year, however, is "healthy, intact, functioning normally and safely in the lunar orbit," said ISRO .
The newly re-elected Modi hoped to enjoy the glory of a successful mission, but on Saturday he skillfully became chief comforter in a speech on the mission's broadcast live on television and to his 50 million followers on Twitter.
“Sisters and brothers of India, resistance and tenacity are fundamental to the spirit of India. In our glorious history of thousands of years, we have faced moments that may have delayed us, but have never crushed our spirit, "he said.
"We have recovered again … This is why our civilization stands firm," he said in Bangalore. "When it comes to our space program, the best is yet to come."
Chandrayaan-2 took off on July 22 with an orbiter, landing and rover module designed and manufactured almost entirely in India, a week after an initial launch stopped just before takeoff.
ISRO had recognized before the soft landing that it was a complex maneuver, which Sivan called "15 minutes of terror."
He wore the Pragyan rover, "wisdom" in Sanskrit, which should arise several hours after landing.
The vehicle was expected to explore the craters for clues about the origin and evolution of the Moon, and also for evidence on the amount of water in the polar region.
According to Mathieu Weiss, a representative in India of the French space agency CNES, this is vital to determine if humans could one day spend long periods on the Moon.
It would mean that the Moon could be used as a stop on the road to Mars, the next target of governments and private space navigation programs like Elon Musk's Space X.
The third largest economy in Asia also hopes to secure lucrative satellite and orbital trade agreements in the competitive market.
In January, China became the first to land a scout vehicle on the other side of the Moon. In April, Israel's attempt failed at the last minute when its ship suffered an engine failure and apparently crashed on the lunar surface.
The Chandrayaan-2 space mission, the most ambitious in India so far, stood out for its low cost of around $ 140 million.
The United States spent the equivalent of more than $ 100 billion on its Apollo missions.
India is preparing Gaganyaan, its first manned space mission, and the air force announced Friday that the first level of selection of potential astronauts was complete.
The nation of South Asia also hopes to land an investigation on Mars. In 2014, it became the fourth nation to put a satellite into orbit around the Red Planet.