‘ISRO should be transparent’: Ex-Chief as ISRO denies info on Vikram Lander failure

Responding to an RTI query seeking details of Vikram Lander's crash landing on the moon last year, ISRO has cited Section 8(1) of the RTI Act.
Vikram Lander
Vikram Lander

An RTI response accessed by the Times of India has revealed that the Indian Space Research Organisation is unlikely to reveal details about why Chandrayaan-2’s Vikram Lander could not make a successful soft landing on the moon. It has been more a year since the mission was launched, and since the Chandryaan orbiter was placed into the moon’s orbit. ISRO has traditionally made public the Failure Analysis Committee (FAC) reports of all its failed missions. 

According to the TOI report, the RTI query was filed by Sathish GN, a resident of Bengaluru. Sathish had sought the details of the FAC report on the hard landing of Vikram lander. However, the RTI response states that this information cannot be divulged under Section 8(1) of the RTI Act. This section lists exemption of disclosure of information that would “prejudicially affect the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security, strategic, scientific or economic interests of the State, relation with foreign State or lead to incitement of an offence.”

A veteran scientist and former ISRO Chief said that ISRO’s decision may not be the best. “I don’t think the decision taken by ISRO is correct. ISRO has been doing a transparent job and has been a transparent organisation. Just by showing where and how it landed will not affect national security. They have given a lame excuse, that is all,” Dr G Madhavan Nair said. 

Dr Nair added that even when pictures of the debris were shared by the Chennai engineer, ISRO had not made any official comment about the same.

“Our pictures and NASA’s pictures show it (Vikram lander) is disintegrated. In my opinion, ISRO is perfectly and completely transparent. That culture they should maintain,” Dr Nair said.

The only official information that the government has given on Vikram Lander so far was at the Parliament in November 2019. In a written response, Union Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office Jitendra Singh told the Lok Sabha that the first phase of descent of Vikram Lander was carried out smoothly, but during the second phase, the velocity was reduced more than the designed value, which means extra braking was applied, and that led to a deviation in the Lander’s path.

“Due to this deviation, the initial conditions at the start of the fine braking phase were beyond the designed parameters. As a result, Vikram hard-landed within 500 metres of the designated landing site,” the government said and added that the Chandrayaan-2 orbiter continues to study the moon and is sending back information successfully.

On September 7, 2019, Vikram Lander had attempted to make a soft landing on the south side of the moon. However, the attempt was unsuccessful as ISRO lost contact with the lander, Vikram, minutes before it was supposed to land at the designated spot. Eventually, ISRO ceased its attempts to contact Vikram.

Earlier this year, a techie in Chennai had found that the Pragyan rover that was attached to Vikram lander may still be intact on the moon’s surface. The techie, Shanmuga Subramanian, had earlier helped NASA find the debris of the Vikram Lander on the moon’s surface.

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