Sunday, 12 October 2008
Chandrayaan-1: India's First-Ever Moon Mission To Unravel Lunar Secrets
By Syed Akbar
"O Moon! We should be able to know you through our intellect. You
enlighten us through the right path." - Rig Veda
Inspired by this ancient sloka of the Rig Veda, the oldest Scripture on
the Earth, the Indian Space Research Organisation embarked upon the Mission Moon in 2003. Five years later, India's dream of sending its own indigenous mission to the Earth's natural satellite is all set to be realised. Chandrayaan-1, the first-ever
Moon mission by Indian scientists, is scheduled to take off from the historic rocket launch pad in Sriharikota, abutting the azure Bay of Bengal, on October 22.
"Understanding the Moon provides a pathway to unravel the early evolution of the solar system and that of the planet Earth," said a delighted ISRO chief G Madhavan Nair, while announcing the new schedule of the Chandrayaan-1 mission. Once Chandrayaan-1 enters the lunar orbit and starts beaming the lunar data back
to the Earth, India joins the elite club of Space nations.
And this distinction has not come in a day. Indian scientists, long before
the Mission Moon was conceived and set into motion officially in November 2003, had done enough homework on the natural satellite. They had gathered enough data on the Moon and developed the appropriate technology by then. but what they needed was fixing up the loose ends to put the Mission Moon through. Chandrayaan-1 is the first in the series of India's mission to moon. ISRO proposes to send as many as missions as possible to the lunar world. But at presently, one two phases of Chandrayaan are planned, Chandrayaan-1 and Chandrayaan-2.
In Chandrayaan-1, the lunar craft will be launched using Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle. The lunar craft or Chandrayaan (Chandra means Moon in Sanskrit and Yaan
means craft) will orbit around the Moon 100 km from the lunar surface, taking pictures with a resolution as high as 20 km.
Several hurdles, bureaucratic and international, notwithstanding, Team ISRO has now proved before the developed nations that given a right opportunity Indian space scientists are second to none when it comes to doing things which many believe are impossible. Chandrayaan-1 will gradually pave the way for the manned mission to the lunar world. Madhavan Nair and Union Minister of State for Science and Technology Kapil Sibal have already declared India's intention to send a manned mission to the Moon.
The data the Chandrayaan-1 mission will bring back to ISRO's laboratory in
Bengaluru and associated centres all over including NRSA in Hyderabad, will not only help us to understand the Moon better, but also take India a step closer to launching man to the lunar terrain. Chandrayaan-1 will take India, space scientists believe, to the threshold of completing the unfinished task of the Americans and the Russians. The USA and the erstwhile USSR had gathered information about the
moon through their missions, both manned and unmanned, in the 1960s and 1970s.
The last 25 years had not witnessed much activity as far as the Moon is concerned. India will take on from where the Americans and the Russians had left to introduce human beings to the "friendly" terrain of the moon.
The last 50 years had yielded quite a lot of data on the moon. And yet it continues to be as enigmatic as before. As new questions about lunar evolution have emerged, space faring nations continued with their mission to find new possibilities of using the moon as a platform for further exploration of the solar system and beyond. Moon has once again become the prime target for exploration and the USA had already
described it as the future tourist destination.
"The idea of undertaking an Indian scientific mission to Moon was initially mooted in a meeting of the Indian Academy of Sciences in 1999. It was followed up by discussions in the Astronautical Society of India in 2000. Based on the recommendations that emerged out of these meetings, a National Lunar Mission
Task Force was constituted by the Indian Space Research Organisation.
Leading Indian scientists and technologists participated in the deliberations of the Task Force that provided an assessment on the feasibility of an Indian Mission to the Moon as well as dwelt on the focus of such a mission and its possible
configuration," said Dr Nair.
India's current Moon Mission is aimed at high-resolution remote sensing of the moon in visible, near infrared, low energy X-rays and high-energy X-ray regions. Specifically, the objectives will be to prepare a three-dimensional atlas (with a high spatial and altitude resolution of 5-10 m) of both near and far side of
the moon, besides conducting chemical and mineralogical mapping of the entire lunar surface for distribution of elements such as magnesium, aluminium, silicon, calcium,
iron and titanium. Chandrayaan-1 will also study high atomic number elements including radon, uranium and thorium.
The other objectives of the mission are to take photo geological and chemical mapping of the moon to identify different geological units on the lunar surface. This will test the early evolutionary history of the moon and help in determining the nature and stratigraphy of the lunar crust.
The Rs 386-crore India's Chandrayaan-1 mission include the cuboid shaped spacecraft that weighs 1,304 kgs at launch and 590 kg at lunar orbit. It ccommodates as many as 11 scientific payloads. Since Chandrayaan-1 will have a low orbit, it is expected to bring it very close to the Moon, returning high quality data.
The Chandrayaan-1 will catapult ISRO to its next moon mission, Chandrayaan-1 scheduled for 2011. While Chandrayaan-1 does not involve the actual touching of the lunar soil, the second phase of the mission involves sending a rover right onto the moon. Chandrayaan-2 will consist of the spacecraft and a landing platform with the moon rover, which will move on wheels on the lunar surface.
The rover will pick up samples of soil or rocks, do a chemical analysis and send the data to the spacecraft orbiting above the moon's territory. The rover will weigh up to 100 kg and will complete its mission in a month's time, before laying dead virtually.
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