“This is an untold story of a little Indian team that chose to dream, that chose to push the limits of what’s possible and upturn a race to space.” This is how Anindya Chakraborty, the narrator of Discovery Channel’s Moonbound, describes the documentary. The film is about Team Indus, a zesty Indian start-up that embarked on an audacious and ambitious mission to land a robotic spacecraft onto the moon in 2010.
Headquartered in Bengaluru, Team Indus was among the five finalists in the Google Lunar XPrize competition, which offered 30 million USD to the first privately funded team that could soft-land a rover onto the moon, move it at least 500 metres after landing and beam high definition images from the lunar surface.
In March, eight years after its inception, Team Indus withdrew from the competition after it failed to find a launch vehicle. In April, the competition itself had to be called off because the other finalists couldn’t launch their respective missions either.
The story of Team Indus isn’t as unknown as Moonbound portrays it to be – the English media in India has covered it extensively – but it certainly is among the most riveting stories to come out of the country. Moonbound will be screened on Discovery Channel from October 30.
Directed by Sujata Kulshreshtha and Abhimanyu Tewari, Moonbound begins in 2010 in New Delhi. This is the year when software engineer Rahul Narayan stumbled upon the Google Lunar XPrize competition or, as Chakraborty puts it, “a post daring ordinary people to race to the moon”.
Narayan found the challenge so “exhilarating” that he decided to sign up although he had no idea, let alone the expertise, required to design a mission to the moon, he says in the film.
The other aspect that drew Narayan to the competition was the fact that there was no other team from India. The film reveals how Narayan puts together a diverse team of aerospace engineers – some of them straight out of college – who not only design a mission but actually manage to almost see it through to the end.
The 46-minute documentary does not delve into how the team created a design or a prototype of the rover. The actual components of the design, and what set Team Indus apart from the competition, are glossed over. The documentary focuses more on the emotional and financial challenges faced by the team. The paucity of funds, a problem that Team Indus faced consistently over the eight years, dominates the narrative.
Despite its simplistic take on a complicated mission, Moonbound benefits from being structured as a countdown to the finish line. The film champions the idea that even a failed attempt to get to space is enough to get some people over the moon with joy.