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Words Matter: The Hidden Value of the Failure of the Vikram Lander

Written by Samyukta Iyer Edited by Yuktee Srikant and Shaili Singh Graphic by Vani Thupili Thousands of panicked students, adults, and seniors huddled in their living rooms on that fateful day, watching as the observed line of the lander’s position deviated slowly but surely from the expected line. The camera panned to the group of students in the building, winners of the nationwide Space Quiz competition, and then finally returned to the scientists whispering nervously among each other and eventually giving the somber news of the loss of signal to the Prime Minister himself. My family was one of the many watching from overseas, and although my heart had also plummeted with the dropping of the graph, I couldn’t help but feel slightly empowered as I watched Narendra Modi praise the work of ISRO (Indian Space Research Organization). On that day, as both a a nation and a global community, we learned that success is not necessarily defined by simply achieving the goal in mind. I watched as clusters of Indian women wearing traditional saris and chudidhars communicated intensely with their colleagues and monitored the progress and signals from the Lander. This reminded me of Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson, and how not too long ago, these women sat in an altogether separate and secluded building, obscured from notice or recognition. On that day, even though the Lander had failed, I saw progress and success with each discussion and collaboration between these intelligent women and their peers, setting a crucial example for millions of young girls growing up in India. And there was something almost hopeful, that somewhere out there, the Vikram Lander could have landed. Maybe off-target, but at least the hope is there. Ultimately, the failure of the Vikram Lander taught the billions of Indians and international viewers the power of hope and progress in the face of adversity, a lesson that will continue to prove valuable as we embark further into the unknown.

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