India's Space Agency Loses Contact With Chandrayaan-2 Moments Before Attempted Lunar Landing

India's long-awaited attempt at a moon landing appeared to end in failure Friday—though what actually happened to its space craft remains unknown. India's Space Research Organisation (ISRO) lost contact with its craft, Chandrayaan-2, just minutes before its landing module was scheduled to touch down on the lunar surface.

India would have been the fourth nation to land on the moon—after the U.S., Russia and China—and the first country to successfully land on the moon's south pole.

The Chandrayaan-2 space craft launched into orbit July 22, two days before the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11's famous moon landing. The launch had initially been planned for eight days earlier, but a "technical snag" forced ISRO to abort the space mission less than an hour before take-off, local media reported.

Chandrayaan-2's lander was named after Vikram A. Sarabhai, "the father of the Indian space program," according to The New York Times. As planned, the 3,200-pound Vikram had detached itself from the main space craft earlier this week. At around 1:30 p.m. Friday, the landing module began descending toward the moon at a rate of about 2,000 miles per hour. Soon after, ISRO's images of the traveling space craft were lost.

The country's space agency released a statement on its official website Saturday.

"Since the launch of Chandrayaan-2 on July 22, 2019, not only India but the whole world watched its progress from one phase to the next with great expectations and excitement," ISRO wrote. "This was a unique mission which aimed at studying not just one area of the Moon but all the areas combining the exosphere, the surface as well as the sub-surface of the moon in a single mission. The Orbiter has already been placed in its intended orbit around the Moon and shall enrich our understanding of the moon's evolution and mapping of the minerals and water molecules in the Polar Regions, using its eight state-of-the-art scientific instruments."

The Vikram lander and Chandrayaan orbiter in the clean room at the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) in Bengaluru. Pallava Bagla/Corbis via Getty Images

India had launched its first Chandrayaan—which means "moon craft" in Sanskrik—project toward the end of 2008. According to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the Chandrayaan-1 was a "mission designed to orbit the Moon over a two-year period with the objectives of upgrading and testing India's technological capabilities in space and returning scientific information on the lunar surface."

This is not the first attempt at a moon landing this year. In January, China became the first country to successfully land a space probe on the far side of moon. Israel made a similar attempt in April, with no success.