"We came very close," Prime Minister Narendra Modi told India in an address Saturday after its attempt to safely put a spacecraft on the moon appears to have failed just before landing. "As important as the final result is the journey and the effort," Space.com reports that Modi added. "I can proudly say that the effort was worth it, and so was the journey." Mission controllers lost contact with the unmanned Vikram lander early Saturday as it was descending to the surface from an altitude of about 1.3 miles. The Chandrayaan-2 orbiter is still at work, though, on a yearlong assignment to study the moon from 62 miles away. Researchers plan to use the data it collects to create detailed maps that will help understanding of the moon's composition and evolution.
The failure illustrates the fact that 50 years after Apollo 11, landing on the moon is still difficult. Any mission today has a head start, per the Atlantic, compared with the first missions. Less is done from scratch than in the 1960s: Many of the parts needed can be bought on the internet. But two missions this year have failed. China successfully landed on the far side of the moon in January, but a private mission launched in Israel crashed on the moon's surface. "In some ways it's much easier," a spacecraft engineer said. "But in the end, it's not easy at all." It's still not clear what the surface will do when the engines approach; the surface varies and our knowledge of it is limited. A soft landing is a tall order. "It's actually like landing a missile," the engineer said. The US, China and the Soviet Union are still the only nations to have succeeded. (The Beresheet mission could have survivors.)