As the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) gears up for a historic landing on the Moon’s surface, Chennai-based software developer Shanmuga Subramanian, who made international headlines in 2019 by locating the debris of the Chandrayaan-2 mission’s Vikram lander, will be keeping a close eye on the Chandrayaan-3 landing, scheduled to take place on Wednesday.
In December 2019, Subramanian found the Chandrayaan-2 lander’s debris that had eluded both NASA and ISRO scientists.
Armed with just a standard laptop, he had spent several days in late November 2019 comparing old and new images of the lunar surface, zooming in and out, pixel by pixel. The method, while unorthodox, led to the discovery of a single anomaly – a dot – that turned out to be part of the Vikram lander.
NASA had then issued a statement confirming the identification, noting that Subramanian “contacted the LRO (Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter) project with a positive identification of debris”. He utilised the differences in how light is reflected, comparing natural objects with human-made ones, to make the discovery.
Employed at a software company in Chennai, Subramanian has been busy the past few days ahead of the Chandrayaan-3 landing.
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Speaking to The Indian Express on Tuesday, he said: “I am really excited ahead of the launch. I will be taking leave to watch the whole landing process tomorrow. I prepared the digital elevation models of the landing site with all the craters and mountains around… I have already processed and published images of the proposed landing site from information and photographs available in the public domain.”
He created the elevation models of the expected landing site using coordinates given by ISRO. “That is how I measure the height differences of the surrounding terrain – for example, the depth of craters or the height of mountains. I use Integrated Software for Imagers and Spectrometers (ISIS) and PDS4 viewer to process images through NASA software and to open original ISRO images,” he said of the methods he uses.
A mechanical engineering graduate, Subramanian, however, made his career in the IT sector over the last 15 years. His non-linear path has also involved other technological pursuits, including designing apps for tsunami alerts, and running a popular Facebook page for weather forecasts in Chennai.