Fate Of India's Moon Lander Unknown India's mission control lost contact with its Vikram lander as it tried to make a soft landing near the moon's remote South Pole. Now the craft has been located, but its condition is unknown.
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Fate Of India's Moon Lander Unknown

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Fate Of India's Moon Lander Unknown

Fate Of India's Moon Lander Unknown

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LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Early Saturday, India tried to do something that had never been attempted before. Its space program tried to land an unmanned rover near the moon's south pole, but mission control lost contact with the lander craft as it made its final approach. Now there are reports that the space agency has located the lander on the moon's surface but doesn't know what condition it's in.

NPR's Lauren Frayer is in Mumbai.

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: At first, all went according to plan. Mission control narrated as India's Vikram lander detached from an unmanned orbiter to go in for a soft landing on the moon. Anticipation and excitement filled the command center in the southern Indian city of Bengaluru.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: The Vikram lander has successfully completed the rough breaking phase.

FRAYER: But then the whole room went eerily silent. Prime Minister Narendra Modi was there watching from a glass mezzanine above. Dozens of schoolchildren were there as well, all wearing matching space program T-shirts and baseball caps. Everyone waited.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: And we're just waiting for the confirmation of the spacecraft...

FRAYER: And waited some more. Then scientists huddled in quiet conversation. Their body language revealed it before mission control did.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Negative, no signal. We are not receiving...

FRAYER: Finally, the director of India's space agency walked upstairs to brief the prime minister. They'd lost contact with the Vikram lunar lander. The last signal came in when it was a little over a mile above the moon's surface. The schoolchildren, rubbing their eyes, packed up and went home. It was past 3 o'clock in the morning.

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PRIME MINISTER NARENDRA MODI: For the last few hours, the entire nation was awake.

FRAYER: Prime Minister Modi tried to comfort the disappointed scientists at mission control, some of them in tears. This was supposed to be a celebration. Modi spoke in front of a huge sign that read, the sky is no longer the limit for our pride.

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MODI: We came very close, but we will need to cover more ground in the times to come. Every Indian is filled with a spirit of pride, as well as confidence.

FRAYER: India's moon craft would have become the first to land at the moon's unexplored south pole. Scientists are analyzing what went wrong when they lost contact with the lander. They may now have located it and are trying to establish communication and see what condition it's in.

Lauren Frayer, NPR News, Mumbai.

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