Am crazy about rockets, says Chennai techie who found Vikram lander

In the weeks after the Vikram lander crash-landed on the lunar surface, a 33-year-old engineer in Chennai would often stay up nights to scour the mosaic images put out by the US space agency NASA’s lunar orbiter. But NASA couldn’t spot pieces of the small spacecraft that the Indian space agency Isro had attempted to land on the moon. That had made the task much more challenging. Soon, Shanmuga Subramanian concedes he was hooked to it.

Those sleepless nights appeared to pay off in early October when Subramanian spotted what he believed was the debris. He tweeted about it and mailed his suspicions to NASA and the Indian Space Research Agency.

But he kept up the effort.

“I used to return from work at 8 pm. After dinner, I would start comparing the NASA images till 2 am. Again, I would wake wake up by 6 am and scan the photos until 8 am before leaving for office,” he said.

The sleepless nights over the last one-and-a-half months, or about 45 days, appeared to pay off early on Tuesday morning when NASA tweeted confirmation about finding the pieces of the spacecraft Vikram Lander and credited the Chennai engineer for the find.

“The October image was little clear as compared to the September one. NASA further captured a recent one in November. The November picture was enough for NASA to declare that they have found the debris of Vikram Lander,” the engineer told reporters at his Adayar house in south Chennai.

Indian space agency ISRO says Vikram lander’s velocity reduced faster than anticipated during a crucial period – described by Isro chief K Sivan as “15 minutes of terror” – leading to the carefully planned final stages of the mission going awry just 2.1km from the surface of the moon.

India would have been only the fourth country to land on the moon if the lander had stayed the course.

But it probably, Subramanian speculated, would not have generated as much interest.

“I don’t think Vikram lander would have had such an impact on the minds of Indian public if it had landed successfully. Since it was lost, there was a lot of discussion in public forums as well as on my FB regarding what malfunctioned etc,” Subramanian, who trained as a mechanical engineer, said.

Subramanian said he had always been excited by rockets as a child.

“I am crazy about rockets from my childhood and never missed a rocket launch to watch on TV until I reached college,” he said. Subramanian recalled how he would stand on the terrace of his house to spot the movement of rockets launched at Sriharikota. “So, my love for space technology made me look for this,” he said.

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