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India set to write an epic poem on Moon with other nations

CHANDRAYAAN-2, India’s second mission to the Moon, is not only important to India but to the whole world. It is no doubt a yet another great feat of Indian scientific genius, yet it is but a significant contribution to the development of universal knowledge about the Moon, which is the Earth’s next-door neighbour in the space, being the celestial body closest to it, and an alluring one. Chandrayaan-2 is on a mission similar to the ones undertaken by scholarly travellers such as Hiuen Tsang or Al Beruni in the earlier centuries who visited countries near and far from their native land to meticulously record various aspects of life in those countries. There have been missions from the US, Russia and China that have landed on the Moon, which have contributed to the overall information about the Moon.

India, since it sent out Chandrayaan-1 in 2008, had been working on a Chandrayaan-2 that would land on the Moon and also rove about to gather information about its surface and what lay beneath. Chandrayaan-1’s success lay in getting into and remaining in the orbit of the Moon for a pretty good time. Now India wanted to send a mission that would land on the Moon and also do a study. However, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) did not have the technology to power the spacecraft. So India partnered with Russia, which had the technology, to work on a joint mission to the Moon in 2011. However, the partnership did not work out as was envisaged, owing to Russia dragging its feet and not carrying out the parts of the joint responsibility it was expected to. Finally the joint mission was called off.

That was disaster, if ISRO looked at it one way. That was a blessing in disguise, if ISRO looked at it another way. The scientists at ISRO took it up as a challenge, and from early 2010s the government of India gave all the support they needed to build a spacecraft of their own that could land and rove. It took hell of a lot of money to do it – over Rs 1,000 crore against Rs 380-crore Chandrayaan-1 – but they did a fantastic job, as the launching of Chandrayaan-2 from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota on July 22 proved. ISRO scientists had even in the days of global sanctions imposed by the Nuclear Club for engines to power spacecraft very ingeniously gathered information about various technologies. India’s space science, technology and research are largely built upon the principle of self-reliance. With the launch of the Chandrayaan-2 mission, ISRO scientists have once again hoisted the flag of self-reliance.         

Since Chandrayaan-1 India has been working to collect information on the probably of water on the Moon. Chandrayaan-2 is going to land on the Moon’s south pole that has permanently shadowed craters that are scientifically conjectured to have vast deposits of water-ice. Chandrayaan-1 found evidence for water in the exosphere of Moon, on the surface of Moon and several metres beneath the surface. There were more signs of evidence for water. Chandrayaan-1 was a truly international mission. India invited international partners to join its scientific investigation of the Moon by contributing complementary instruments or conducting jointly developed experiments. The US, Europe and Bulgaria partnered with India with instruments.

The world’s lunar mission started with the landing of NASA’s Apollo 11 on the Moon on July 20, 1969. It was an amazing mission, Apollo 11 covering the 4 lakh km distance to reach the Moon in three days. Astronaut Neil Armstrong became the first human to place his feet on the Moon’s surface and he made a historic statement: “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” Yet, after the Apollo 11 success, little was done by any country to investigate the Moon’s surface, minerals and other resources. For years nobody went to the Moon. Seen in that light, India’s Chandrayaan missions are going to add crucial portions to the corpus of scientific investigations of the Moon by the missions of three other nations, the US, Russia and China. Together some day they will write a scientific biography of our gorgeous neighbour.

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