NASA's lunar orbiter couldn't find India's lost moon lander

A nearly impossible game of Where's Waldo, in space.

Jackson Ryan Former Science Editor
Jackson Ryan was CNET's science editor, and a multiple award-winning one at that. Earlier, he'd been a scientist, but he realized he wasn't very happy sitting at a lab bench all day. Science writing, he realized, was the best job in the world -- it let him tell stories about space, the planet, climate change and the people working at the frontiers of human knowledge. He also owns a lot of ugly Christmas sweaters.
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Where is the little lander?

NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University

Vikram, where are you? The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) lost contact with its lunar lander as it headed towards the moon's surface on Sept. 6. Since losing contact, ISRO has engaged in a rescue mission of sorts, listening to the sky hoping to hear from what was to be the first spacecraft to explore the moon's south pole. As part of that mission, NASA has stepped in to help, sending the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) over the supposed landing site to join the search on Sept. 17. But the news is grim. There's no sign of Vikram. 

Early reports suggested the LRO was unable to locate the lander due to intense shadows as dusk descended on the moon. With the sunlight disappearing and an official location of the downed lander lacking, the official word is: Wait until we get another look.

NASA said in a media release on Friday that the LRO camera performed a scan of the targeted landing region, peering across some 150 kilometers (93 miles). The LRO team was unable to locate the lander. 

It's not all bad news for India's lunar exploration robot, however. The next time LRO passes over the Vikram landing site in October, the sun will be shining. That should give the NASA search party a chance for a clearer look -- and hopefully our first idea about Vikram's fate. 

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