Moonshot Ends in Failure for India and Its Water-Hunting Rover

India’s attempt to land a probe on the moon’s southern pole failed, dealing a major blow to its ambitious space program.

The country’s space agency lost communication with a lander and a rover near the satellite’s surface, minutes before a scheduled touchdown. The Chandrayaan-2 craft’s descent was normal until an altitude of 2.1 km (1.3 miles) before communication was lost early Saturday in India, the chairman of the Indian Space Research Organization, K. Sivan, said in a televised broadcast.

Fifty years after Neil Armstrong’s fabled first steps on the lunar surface, India tried to become just the fourth nation to pull off a soft landing on the moon. Only the former Soviet Union, the U.S. and China have managed that without damaging their vehicles. Chandrayaan-2, which means “moon vehicle” in Sanskrit, had planned to analyze virgin territory on Earth’s closest neighbor for signs of water and helium-3.

Hours after the failed attempt, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who watched the attempt to land with dozens of school children from around the country, met top ISRO scientists in the mission control center in Bengaluru. In a televised speech invoking nationalism, Modi said India’s resolve to conquer space has only gotten stronger after the failure, and went on to comfort a teary-eyed Sivan with a long embrace.

“You came as close as you could. Stay steady and look ahead,” Modi said in the 25-minute speech. “Resilience and tenacity are central to India’s ethos.”

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