NASA Data Shows Less Than 60 Percent of All Lunar Missions Have Been Successful


Chandrayaan-2 Moon mission’s plan to soft land the Vikram module on the lunar surface did not go as per script. The success ratio of lunar missions undertaken in the last six decades is less than 60 percent, according to US space agency NASA’s ‘Moon Fact Sheet’. Of the 109 lunar missions during the period, 60 were ‘successful’, and the rest, nearly 45 percent, were either ‘unsuccessful’ or classified as a ‘partial success’. ISRO has also issued a statement saying nearly 95 percent of Chandrayaan-2’s mission objectives hav been acheived.

NASA has tabulated moon mission data from the 1950s up till April 2019, up the Israel Beresheet lander mission, which also had the distinction of being the first lunar landing attempt by a private company. Chandrayaan-2 mission’s status has not yet been updated on the NASA page at the time of writing. The mission is still ongoing, and while some of its objectives, i.e., landing the Vikram module and deploying the Pragyan rover, have not gone as planned, the Chandrayaan-2 orbiter still has mission goals to achieve. It is currently healthy in lunar orbit, ISRO said.

The Vikram lander lost communication with ground stations during its final descent. ISRO officials said, adding that the orbiter of Chandrayaan-2 — second lunar mission — remains heathy and safe.

ISRO in an update on its Chandrayaan-2 microsite said, “Chandrayaan-2 mission was a highly complex mission, which represented a significant technological leap compared to the previous missions of ISRO, which brought together an Orbiter, Lander and Rover to explore the unexplored south pole of the Moon. [..] The success criteria was defined for each and every phase of the mission and till date 90 to 95 percent of the mission objectives have been accomplished and will continue contribute to Lunar science , notwithstanding the loss of communication with the Lander.”

G Madhavan Nair, a former ISRO chairman during whose tenure Chandrayaan-1 was launched a decade ago, said the mission has achieved 95 percent of its objectives despite the lander not touching down. India”s 2008 moon mission had discovered the presence of water molecules on the parched lunar surface. Former NASA astronaut Jerry Linenger said the lessons learnt from India”s “bold attempt” to soft land the ”Vikram” module will help the country during its future missions.

This year, Israel, too, launched its lunar mission Beresheet in February but it crash landed in April.

From 1958 to 2019, India as well as the US, the USSR (now Russia), Japan, the European Union, China and Israel launched different lunar missions — from orbiters, landers and flyby (orbiting the Moon, landing on the Moon and flying by the Moon).

The first mission to the Moon was planned by the US in August 17, 1958, but the launch of Pioneer 0 was unsuccessful. The first successful mission to the Moon was Luna 1 by the USSR on January 4, 1959. It was also the first ”Moon flyby” mission. The success had come only in the sixth mission.
In a span of a little more than a year, from August 1958 to November 1959, the US and the USSR launched 14 missions.

Of these, only three – Luna 1, Luna 2 and Luna 3 – were successful. All were launched by the USSR.
The Ranger 7 mission launched in July 1964 by the US was the first to take close-up pictures of the Moon.

The first lunar soft landing and first pictures from the lunar surface came from Luna 9, launched by the USSR in January 1966.

Five months later, in May 1966, the US successfully launched a similar mission Surveyor-1.

The Apollo 11 mission was the landmark mission through which humans first stepped on to the lunar surface. The three-crewed mission was headed by Neil Armstrong.

From 1958 to 1979, only the US and the USSR launched Moon missions. In these 21 years, the two countries launched 90 missions. There was a lull in the decade that followed with no lunar missions from 1980-89.

Japan, the European Union, China, India and Israel were late entrants. Japan launched Hiten, an orbiter mission in January 1990. This was also Japan”s first Moon mission. After that, in September 2007, Japan launched Selene, another orbiter mission.

There were six lunar missions from 2000-2009 — Europe (Smart-1), Japan (Selene), China (Chang”e 1), India (Chandrayaan-1) and the US (Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and LCCROSS). From 2009-2019, ten missions have been launched of which five have been sent by India, three by the US, and one each by India and Israel.

Since 1990, the US, Japan, India, the European Union, China and Israel launched 19 lunar missions.

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