Meet Shanmuga Subramanian: The Chennai techie who helped NASA find the Vikram lander

Shanmuga Subramanian also runs the Facebook page Chennai Rains live that updates citizens about the weather.
Meet Shanmuga Subramanian: The Chennai techie who helped NASA find the Vikram lander
Meet Shanmuga Subramanian: The Chennai techie who helped NASA find the Vikram lander
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On September 7 this year, even as an entire nation waited with bated breath for the success of India’s own moon mission— Chandrayaan 2— the Indian Space Research Organisation lost touch with the Vikram lander. The lander, which was meant to touch down on the moon's surface, it was later learned, lost contact due to 'hard braking' in the second phase of its descent. As anticipation grew on the whereabouts of the lander in the weeks and months since, American space agency NASA was aiding its Indian counterparts look for the lander. And who helped the Americans? Well, Chennai’s own Shanmuga Subramanian, otherwise known to the city’s residents as the man behind the Chennai Rains Live page on Facebook. 

An engineering graduate from the Government Engineering College, Tirunelveli, Shanmuga has been working as an IT engineer for 12 years. A mechanical engineer by profession, an avid weather and space enthusiast, his interest in outer space has immensely benefited the public. His regular updates regarding rains in Chennai with the help of radar data and satellite imagery regularly helps citizens prepare for weather-related eventualities. 

“I feel very happy that I could find the debris. I kept comparing picture by picture for almost a week and used to do it for seven hours a day,” he told TNM. 

Shanmuga Subramanian looked for debris of the Vikram lander on the images from NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) Camera that the US space agency had released to the public. 

In a tweet to the space agency on October 3, Shanmuga Subramanian posted two pictures of the landing site. One was from December 2017 and the other after news of the lander lost contact with ISRO. He pointed out that no white dot was seen in the old picture of the same spot from December 2017 which indicated that the white dot on the left image is Vikram lander. He even pointed out to the American space scientists that Vikram would only be visible as a dot since the new image was 1.25m per pixel. Providing them with the coordinates of the crash site, Shanmuga Subramanian presented evidence of the ejecta that may have been thrown out of the lander.

He asked, “Is this Vikram lander?  (1 km from the landing spot) Lander might have been buried in Lunar sand?” And it was this clinching evidence, which even the premier space agency overlooked, that helped NASA announce on Tuesday that the Vikram lander had been found.

On October 18, he wrote to both ISRO and NASA about this. Though both did not reply to him then, NASA had earlier sent him a mail on October 3 confirming that their satellite went on to investigate the spot that Shanmuga pointed out and they found the debris.

“I have always been fascinated with the rockets and rocket launchers. This was a great find for me,” he said. 

Shanmuga Subramanian was able to find the debris only because NASA makes most of its data public. He says that even ISRO should do the same. “This is a request to ISRO that they should also put more data in public,” he told TNM.

Watch his interview with Manasa Rao here:

Speaking to IANS, LRO’s Project Scientist Noah Petro said, “The story of this really amazing individual (who) found it, helped us find it is really awesome. [Shanmuga Subramanian] is totally independent of the LRO, totally independent of the Chandrayaan 2 team, just someone who is very interested in the Chandrayaan 2 mission (who) used our data and identified a spot where there was a change that we had not identified.” 

"He went through the image, looking pixel by pixel and found that spot," Petro added.

Petro said that he and the LRO camera team head received an email from Subramanian about his finding and that was used to help identify the spot where Vikram crashed.

The Arizona State University (ASU), where the LROC project is located, said: "After receiving this tip the LROC team confirmed the identification by comparing before and after images."

When the images for the first mosaic were acquired on September 17, the impact point was poorly illuminated and could not easily identify it, ASU said.

But two image sequences taken on October 14 and 15, and on November 11 were better. The university said that the LROC team scoured the surrounding area in the new mosaics and found the impact site and debris field.

The impact site is located at 70.8810AoS, 22.7840AoE, at an elevation of 834 metres, it said. "The debris first located by Shanmuga is about 750 meters northwest of the main crash site," ASU said.

With IANS inputs

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