An Amateur Astronomer Helped NASA Find a Wrecked Lander on the Moon

NASA congratulated Shanmuga Subramanian, a mechanical engineer, for his discovery of what remains of India’s lost lunar lander.
December 3, 2019, 6:17pm
Vikram lander crash site. Image: NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University​
Vikram lander crash site. Image: NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University

The splintered remains of India’s first robotic Moon lander, which crashed after malfunctions during its descent, have been identified with the help of an amateur Moon-watcher, NASA announced on Monday.

In early September, India’s Vikram lander joined a hallowed graveyard of lunar wrecks sent by the former Soviet Union, the United States, and Israel, all of which tried and failed to stick their Moon landings.


Soon after the crash, NASA released high-resolution images of the lander’s target site in the Moon’s south pole, captured by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), which has been orbiting the Moon since 2009.

Space sleuths immediately began combing through the data for signs of Vikram’s final destination. Shanmuga Subramanian, a mechanical engineer based in Chennai, India, was the first to pick out an extremely subtle piece of debris in the LRO data, barely more than a pixel in the image, which he passed on to NASA, according to the agency’s Monday statement.

NASA said it followed up on the tip by meticulously comparing images of the area before and after the crash. Researchers noticed subtle differences that led to the location of the main crash site, a full 750 meters away from the debris that Shanmuga first noticed. This means that Vikram is resting in pieces, scattered across the lunar surface.

NASA has now formally credited and congratulated Shanmuga with the discovery of the lander’s remains. The achievement is a reminder that Moon exploration offers endless opportunities for competitive adventures and unusual collaborations—even when missions fail.