Shanmuga Subramanian: The Chennai-based techie who found Vikram Lander

Topics Chandrayaan-2

This image shows the Vikram Lander impact point and associated debris field. Green dots indicate spacecraft debris (confirmed or likely). Blue dots locate disturbed soil. Photo credit: Nasa
Shanmuga Subramanian's (Shan) Twitter handle has 1824 tweets and 5690 followers. In the profile, he says he is a mechanical engineer, blogger, app developer, QA engineer, an expert with Microsoft's AzureDevOps. And now, there is an addition to it - "I found Vikram Lander!"

The 33-year-old techie from Chennai, has achieved a rare feat, finding out the debris of Indian Space Research Organisation's (Isro) Vikram lander which was dispatched in Chandrayaan 2, with the expectations of a soft launch on Moon's South Pole on September 7. However, after control was lost, it crash landed on the Moon and lost communication links with Earth.

Both Isro and the US Space agency, NASA, were on the lookout for the debris, but it was Shan who first located Vikram's debris on Moon's Surface, using the images published by NASA.

The image showed Vikram Lander's impact point and the associated debris field. "The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC) team released the first mosaic (acquired September 17) of the site on September 26 and many people have downloaded the mosaic to search for signs of Vikram. Shanmuga Subramanian contacted the LRO project with a positive identification of debris. After receiving this tip, the LROC team confirmed the identification by comparing before and after images," said NASA's announcement on identifying the debris.

The debris, first located by Shanmuga, are located about 750 meters northwest of the main crash site and identified a single bright pixel in that first mosaic, NASA added.

Shan, who hails from Madurai, Tamil Nadu, worked with IT major Cognizant earlier and is currently with Lennox India  Technology Centre, used to watch Isro launches on television. When he heard that even NASA was not able to identify the debris, he took it as a challenge. Having some idea about the location of the landing, the last location of the lander and how distant it was from the desired location, he took a closer look at the particular area in the images with the help of NASA's telemetry data.

He said in a television interview that he searched the images for almost 7 to 8 hours daily for around four days.

On October 3, Shan in his Twitter account, compared the new image with an old image and pointed to a spot almost 1 km away from the landing spot and enquired whether it was the Vikram Lander, and whether the lander might have been buried in lunar sand. He also sent an email to some of the scientists from the LRO project for confirmation.

On November 17, he pointed out another site, stating that it could be the lander's crash site, comparing it with the images from July, 2019 of the same area where the spots looked different.

NASA, along with announcing the discovery of the debris, gave credit to Shan and sent him an email that his discovery had helped the LROC team locate the site of the primary impact as well as other debris around the impact location. It has also marked the debris discovered by Shan in the images it released.  

Shan is a technical architect (Devops) at Lennox India and has created websites and android apps which were reviewed by Indian and International publications. His innovations include a text only browser which saves data, BrailleVoice, which reads web articles through phone, an app that helps deleting multiple tweets, Tsunami alerers for Pacific Ocean and Indian Ocean, among others. He has completed his higher education in St Joseph's Matric Higher Secondary School, Madurai and BE Mechanical with distinction from Government College of Engineering, Tirunelveli.

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