Vikram lander
This screen grab taken from a live webcast by Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) on August 6, 2019 shows Vikram Lander before it is supposed to land on the Moon. Image Credit: AFP

NASA on Tuesday found Vikram Lander of Chandrayaan-2 and released images of its impact site on the Moon, where the spacecraft had lost communication moments before making a soft landing on the far side of the lunar surface in September.

Meet the engineer who found the debris

His Facebook introduction states, "Nobody knows me". It may be a philosophical statement.

But today the world knows the 33-year old mechanical engineer Shanmuga Subramanian originally from Madurai and now a Technical Architect at Lennox India Technology Centre here.

For he was the person who first spotted the debris of India's moon lander Vikram on the lunar surface after it crash landed on September 7, 2019.

The US space agency National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has credited him for discovering the debris of Vikram.

Feeling happy, Subramanian told IANS: "Since my school days, I was interested in space and rocket launches. I never missed out watching an Indian rocket launch on Doordarshan. I have seen most of the launches of PSLV and GSLV."

Subramanian said he got very much interested in the Chandrayaan-2 mission as the media wrote about it extensively.

When India's moon lander Vikram crashed into the lunar surface and was not traceable, Subramanian got interested to check out whether he could find it.

And he succeeded in that mission.

On Tuesday, his Facebook friends erupted in joy and congratulated him after he posted a message that NASA has credited him for finding Vikram lander.

Since Sept 7, the Indian as well as the global space community were wondering as to the fate of Vikram as there was no trace of it.

However, space enthusiast Subramanian pored over the images that the US space agency NASA's Lunar Reconnissance Orbital (LRO) Camera released to the public.

Comparing the images of the lunar surface before and after Sept 7, Subramanian found some disturbances and differences.

"Is this Vikram lander -- (1 km from the landing spot)?" It might have been buried in Lunar sand?" he had tweeted on Oct 3 and tagged Indian space agency Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and NASA.

Subsequently, on Nov 17 Subramanian also saw two pictures of the lunar surface and said: "This might be Vikram lander's crash site (Latitude: 70.8552 Longitude: 21.71233 ) & the ejector that was thrown out of it might have landed over here."

He had tweeted the pictures of lunar surface taken on July 16th and the one taken on Sept 17.

A bright student from school days, Subramanian had scored 91 per cent in plus two and 90 per cent in his 10th standard matriculation stream.

Later he joined mechanical engineering course in a government engineering college in Tirunelveli.

"Even though I was interested in space, I felt only through IT (information technology) one can change people's life and decided to get into this field," Subramanian said.

After his graduation, he joined IT company Cognizant and later moved over to Lennox India.

Subramanian has a sister and his father retired as a government employee while is mother is a professor in a college.

"I was able to find something out of the ordinary in a particular spot, so, I thought this must be the debris. I got confirmation from NASA today," Subramanian told ANI here.

"I spent seven-eight hours each day for four-five days on this. This is something that can be done by anyone with right knowledge. This should inspire a lot of people," he added.

NASA's confirmation

The NASA posted images clicked by its Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) Camera, showing the site's changes on the Moon and the impact point before and after the spacecraft had made a hard-landing on the lunar surface.

It also indicated the impact spot of the lander and an associated debris field created by the crash with blue and green dots respectively.

"Green dots indicate spacecraft debris (confirmed or likely). Blue dots locate disturbed soil, likely where small bits of the spacecraft churned up the regolith. "S" indicates debris identified by Shanmuga Subramanian," the statement said.

"Shanmuga Subramanian contacted the LRO project with a positive identification of debris. After receiving this tip, the LROC team confirmed the identification by comparing before and after images," it added.

"The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera team released the first mosaic (acquired on September 17) of the site on September 26 and many people have downloaded the mosaic to search for signs of Vikram. When the images for the first mosaic were acquired the impact point was poorly illuminated and thus not easily identifiable. Two subsequent image sequences were acquired on October 14 and 15, and on November 11.

The LROC team scoured the surrounding area in these new mosaics and found the impact site and associated debris field," the statement continued.

"The debris first located by Shanmuga is about 750 meters northwest of the main crash site and was a single bright pixel identification in that first mosaic," NASA further said.

What had happened

Vikram Lander was scheduled to make a soft-landing near the south pole of the moon on September 7. However, minutes before its scheduled soft-landing, ISRO had lost communication with the lander at 2.1 kilometres above the Moon's surface.

Days later, the Chandryaan-2 Orbiter had also clicked a thermal image of Vikram Lander.

The Vikram Lander had successfully separated from Chandrayaan-2 Orbiter on September 2. After revolving around the Earth's orbit for nearly 23 days, the craft had begun its journey to the moon on August 14.

The mission took off from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota on July 22.

A successful landing would have made India just the fourth country to land a vessel on the lunar surface, and only the third to operate a robotic rover there.