Exploring space is hard. This is perhaps the takeaway during the announcement of the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) that it has lost contact with the Vikram lunar lander. During its attempt to make a touchdown on the Southern part of the moon, the control agency has reported that it was not able to reach its lander just when it was attempting to make a safe landing. 

India's attempt to send its own lander to the surface of the moon has poised them into possibly becoming the fourth nation that has successfully made a touchdown. Since the project was also aimed at making a landing at the southern part of the moon, they would have been the first nation to ever reach that area. Though the ISRO are still doing its best to restore communication with Vikram, such an unsuccessful landing is a painful reminder of what happened earlier this year when a private Israeli robotic lander crashed into one of the natural satellites. 

Despite many successful attempts to make it possible for humans to land on the moon after the historic Apollo landing fifty years ago, making it happen remains to be a tough one. In a Tweet by Lisa Grossman, a space journalist, she mentioned that of the 30 attempts to make a soft landing on the moon made by space agencies and private research corporation all over the world, more than one third have failed. 

But what makes it so challenging to make a successful landing to the moon?

"Many things have to happen in order to make a successful landing on the surface of the moon and they have to happen in exactly the right order," said Alicia Dwyer Cianciolo, an aerospace engineer from the Langley Research Center of NASA. "If any of these things do not fall is planned, that is when trouble begins."

The first challenge is how to get the lander into the lunar orbit, which is definitely not an easy feat. It took several propellant rockets to get the astronauts aboard the Apollo into the orbit of the moon within 3 days. However, in order to be more economical, Vikram of the ISRO took a rather conservative path that took more than a month to reach the moon. 

Once the spacecraft reaches the orbit of the moon, the spacecraft remains connected to its control center on earth through the Deep Space Network of NASA. This consists of three facilities that make it possible for lunar landers to stay in touch with distant robotic probes currently in space. Failure in communication might have played a huge role in the trouble with the Vikram, leading to the agency's loss of contact with its lander while it was only roughly two kilometers away from making a landing. 

"My heart goes out to those behind the Vikram. The amount of work and dedication needed to make something like this happen is no-joke," said Dwyer Cianciolo. "But we are in an industry where only persistence will pay off, so we hope that they won't stop at trying."