Thursday, September 30, 2010

First Commercial Space Station

            Russia may do it again. It was the first to usher in the global space era with the launch of Sputnik on October 4, 1957 beating the Americans. A similar feat was repeated on April 12, 1961, when a Russian pilot, Yuri Gagarin, became the first person in the world to go to space. After that Russia chalked up several firsts to its credits like sending sending the first woman into space, and also going in for the first extra vehicular activity (spacewalk) to be conducted by cosmonaut Leonov. These are just some of the examples.

            Now, even as the US Congress has approved the extension of the International Space Station (ISS), Russia is working on what it calls the world's first commercial space station (CSS) tentatively slated for launch in 2015.

            The CSS will be a joint venture of a Russian firm, Orbital Technologies, RSC Energia, Roscosmos and the Russian Space Industry. The station which is expected to be some sort of a space hotel catering to various interests and disciplines, is expected to be located within 100 kms of the International Space Station in the low earth orbit. The project will compete with Bigelow Aerospace of Las Vegas which is exploring the possibility of launching a space hotel.

            The CSS will accommodate a seven-member crew who can undertake different types of research. Facilities are also expected to be provided for the media. Apart from this the CSS will permit new types of space-based product development, facilitate satellite servicing and maintenance, provide a staging outpost for human spaceflight missions beyond the low earth orbit and also act as a backup and an emerging safe haven for the ISS crew. It is expected to provide the much-needed boost to space tourism and private space flights. Neil Armstrong, however, does not have much faith in the privatisation of the space sector! One therefore wonders how he views the commercial space station project!

           There had been attempts to design and launch a manned commercial orbital space station by Russia. But, the project did not take off for a variety of reasons. Some of these include:

           * Lack of funding.

           * Insufficient understanding of market needs.

           * Lack of co-operative efforts with various space agencies. 
           Those behind the project have not disclosed how much it would cost a person to fly to the CSS. It will be a bomb!  It is clear however that it is a major exercise by Russia to cough up funds for its future space missions.

           The CSS, having a 15-year life span, is being so designed that it will accommodate various models of human and cargo spacecrafts  which are expected to remain in operation during the next decade. 


           As I write this, hectic preparations are now underway for the launch of China's second unmanned mission to the moon, Chang'e 2. According to the People's Daily and China Daily the flight is slated for take off around 4.30 p.m. (IST) today---October 1 which happens to be Chinese National Day.

           As my friend Pradeep Mohandas says one of the most significant aspects of this flight will lowering the spacecraft to an altitude of 15 kms above the moon' s surface as a test run for Chang'e 3 and soft landing on the moon.

           Let us wait and watch.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Welcome October--a month dedicated to space and stars.

     October is a starry month. Undoubtedly it is dedicated to space and stars. Can anyone forget October 4,1957?  This was the day when the world witnessed the birth of the space age when the former Soviet Union launched Sputnik. And then a year later on October 1,1958, Nasa was born as a result of Sputnik mainly to counter the emerging Soviet space challenge.

     Subsequently, it was sheer coincidence that several space-related events took place in October like for example the launch of the Saturn-bound Cassini (more about it below). and China's first mission to the moon Chang'e-1. There is speculation that Chang'e 2 will be launched anytime between October 1 and 3. But the most important flight took place during the early hours of October 22,2008, when India launched its first successful unmanned mission to the moon, Chandrayaan-1. Its indigenous Terrain Mapping Camera was activated on October 29,2008. All October.

     Therefore, I would say that it was a sheer coincidence that the newly-founded International Space Society (ISS) headquartered at Panchakula near Chandigarh has chosen the space month--October--to organise a national conference on space and an Isro exhibition from October 26 to 28 at Chandigarh.

      The three-day space meet will be inaugurated by former Isro chairman, G.Madhavan Nair, and the conference will see a galaxy of Isro reps giving presentations about various aspects of India's space programme. Spacebuffs would definately not want to miss it.

     Perhaps the much-awaited presentation will be on the Chandrayaan missions on October 26 by none other than its project director, Mylswamy Annadurai, who incidentally is my good friend. Now, with the second Indian moon mission, Chandrayaan-2 steadily taking shape, the participants will be curious to hear about this project. Though the details of the payloads have been announced, still the delegates may want to known more about them. So, Dr Annadurai be sure of a packed auditorium!!

     Then there is a session on resusable launch vehicles by K.Sivan. Isro has been regularly talking about it for years, but no one really knows where this project stands today. So Dr Sivan can provide an update about this programme which can help to brush aside a lot of baseless speculation about this important mission.

      There is also a session on satellite launch vehicles--the Indian scenario and advanced launch vehicles. This session assumes significance in the context of an advanced version of the three-stage Geo Synchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV), designated as GSLV Mark 3, which will have the capability to carry payloads weighing four tonnes, tentatively slated to lift off next year from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre.S. Satish, also a good friend of mine, will give a talk about the Indian space programme.

       Equally interesting will be a talk about satellite re-entry experiment-2 (SRE-2) . This mission was to have taken off last year, but has got rescheduled. SRE-1 was a thumping success and both these missions have been described as precursors to India launching a manned space mission in 2015 initially to the low earth orbit.

        Founder-chairman of ISS Suresh Naik, who will talk about the Global Space Scenario at the conference told ``Beyond Moon and Mars,'' that the meeting has a three-fold aim. These are:-

       * Create an awareness about developments in the space sector especially among the younger generation.

       * Create an awareness about the achievements of Isro particularly among the younger generation and students.

       * Inspire students to take up a career with Isro.

        It is a `go' for the conference. All status is green for the conference's launch and I wish it God Speed.



       On October 15, 1997, an important mission lifted off from Nasa's Kennedy Space Centre in Florida. It was a mission to Saturn and spacecraft was called ``Cassini.'' Originally, it was to have flown only a few years, but to the delight of space scientists and engineers it has operated for 13 years flawlessly beaming tons of important scientific data about Saturn and its moons.

       After 13 years this spacecraft began its new mission extension on Monday (Sept 27) known as the Cassini Solstice Mission. According to Nasa, this extension will take Cassini a few months past Saturn's northern summer solstice ( or midsummer through 2017).

       The significance of the extension lies in the fact that it will scientists to study seasonal changes and other long term weather changes on Saturn and its moons. A complete seasonal period of Saturn has never been studied at this level of detail, says Nasa,

        Cassini has revealed a lot of scientific discoveries since its launch on October 15,1997. Near the end of the mission, the spacecraft will make repeated dives between Saturn and its rings to obtain a greater knowledge of the gas giant. During these dives, the spacecraft will study the internal structure of Saturn, its magnetic fluctuations and ring mass.


Tuesday, September 28, 2010

It is a go for China's second moon mission Chang'e 2

Source of pics: Xinhua

           In all probability lunar exploration history is once again set to be made on October 1, if China's second unmanned mission to the moon, Chang'e 2 lift offs.

          This flight will be of interest to India, because if one goes by, a web, which deals with space news, the mission has an impactor like Chandrayaan-1. Spacedaily has infact gone to the extent of even saying that India achieved the feat of having an impactor prior to China.

          In the run up to the Chang'e 2 launch, it was mentioned that it was a precursor to Chang'e 3 which is expected to be a soft landing mission later. But there was no referance to the impactor. Whether Chinese space officials saw the success of Chandrayaan-1's Moon Impact Probe (MIP ) and then decided to include an impactor in Chang'e 2 is a matter of speculation.

          Assuming that it is equipped with an impactor--I am saying assumed because a story in the Chinese newspaper, ``People's Daily about the forthcoming launch makes no mention of such an impactor---its main role would be to evaluate soft landing techniques which incidentally was one of the main aims of Chandrayaan-1's MIP and study the surface environment of the moon. It may also explore craters.

          According to the People's Daily, the final preperations are in progress for the launch. The on line edition of the newspaper says that the Chang'e 2 spacecraft has already been transported to the Xichang Satellite Launch Centre and the rocket will be the LM-3B rocket.

          With improved technologies, it will fly faster to the moon than Chang'e 1. While Chang'e 1 took a week to reach the moon. Chang'e 2 is expected to complete the journey in five days. That is not all. In order to obtain a better view of the moon, scientists have instaled CCD cameras with the resolving capability of 10 metres on the Chang'e 2 as against 120 metres in Chang'e 1.

          Details about the payloads are yet to be known.



Monday, September 27, 2010

moon society award for kalam

         How many know that he was the person who really mooted the idea of India landing on the moon during the Chandrayaan-1 mission and ``embracing it?''  Hardly anyone unfortunately. Ask a guy on the road or a school kid as to who suggested India touching the moon?  I will change my name if they know who he is. This man is none other than the extremely soft spoken and affable APJ Abdul Kalam, who launched India's first satellite launch vehicle (SLV-3) on July 18,1980 which ushered the space era into India.

        After this historic event, Kalam never really made his presence felt publicly in India's space sector for various reasons. He regularly congratulated the space scientists and engineers after every successful mission, but nothing beyond this formality. Once during the launch of Hamsat, he was invited to be in the mission control room at the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota where he addressed the space team after the success of the mission. During his brief and beautiful address, he recalled his early days with Isro and the launch of SLV-3.

        Then, when Chandrayaan-1 was steadily moving from the workshops and laboratories to the launch pad at the Satish Dhawan Space Centre Madhavan Nair who was then chairman of Isro, met Kalam and briefed him about the Indian moon project. Kalam, then President of India, was reported to have suggested to  Nair, that if Chandrayaan-1 was going to orbit the moon at an altitude of 100 kms, then Isro should explore the possibility of ``embracing the moon.'' The idea was accepted and the Moon Impact Probe (MIP) was born. There was some opposition from the scientists about including the MIP as they felt that it would have no real scientific value. But, after weighing the pros and cons, the MIP finally became a part of the Chandrayaan-1 orbiter. Of all the 11 payloads, it became the most ``visible'' to the public and was responsible for the discovery of water and carbon dioxide.

       On November 12,2008, 48 hours prior to the crash landing of MIP near the Shackelton crater in the moon's south pole region, Kalam told ``Beyond Moon and Mars,'' (BMM) in a tele interview from New Delhi that the crash landing of the probe with the Indian tri colours will send an important message---that no one nation can claim ownership to the moon. ``The moon belongs to every country,'' he told BMM.  According to him the MIP had a geo political as well as a scientific value.

       The inclusion of the MIP was announced by Nair at a lunar conference in November 2004 at Udaipur and took many by surprise.

       On the night of November 14,2008, when MIP was zooming towards the moon, Kalam was in the Chandrayaan mission operations control room in Bangalore observing the progress of ``his baby'' on the huge screens along with other top Isro scientists. And, at 8.31 p.m. when it crash landed after a 25-minute flight, his excitement and joy knew no bounds. ``His baby'' had executed its mission successfully and made India the sixth member of the global lunar club--the other five being the US, Russia, China, Japan and the European Space Agency.

      After the landing, Isro was nice enough to present Kalam with a model of the moon. But, like many other space scientists who had played a key role in the success of the Chandrayaan-1 mission, his involvement has unfortunately remained largely unnoticed in India.

      But not abroad however.  Now, two years after the dramatic crash landing of the MIP on the moon, Kalam, the man who conceived the idea of India ``embracing the moon,'' will be presented by the Moon Society, an international body devoted to the exploration and development of moon, with the University of Luna award on September 29 in Toronto.

      David Dunlop, director, special projects, Moon Society,told BMM that he will be presenting the award on behalf of the society and its India chapter. ``The award which is being presented by the Moon Society will emphasise his (Kalam's) vision for Chandrayaan-1, especially his `embrace the moon' concept which led to the design and development of the Moon Impact Probe,'' he said.

      Dunlop said that during the award presentation he will also stress Kalam's challenge for the development of space solar power and ``push for the acceptance of this challene by the G-20 nations.''

      He said that the award is presented by the Moon Society for whose who make a significant contribution in advancing the day when the moon is ``developed, settled and a vast earth-moon economy elevates life on earth and advances life in the solar system.''

      Heartiest congrats Dr Kalam. And congrats also to the Moon Society for choosing a man like Dr Kalam.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Sat night fever

     Could there have been a better way of enjoying a Saturday night? No. On Saturday September 25, I attended a party at the Russian cultural centre in Pedder Road to mark the 110th anniv of the Russian diplomatic mission in India.

     After the customary speeches which fortunately were not that boring, I introduced myself to a top New Delhi-based Russian diplomat and just mentioned the name of Yuri Gagarin. You must have seen his instant response. Enthusiasm and excitement would be an understatement!  He said: ``Yuri Gagarin. We are in the process of planning major celebrations to mark the 50th anniv of his flight on April 12 2011. I think it will be a major event,'' he said.

     Gagarin came to India and visited Mumbai and New Delhi in November 1961. In Mumbai, the world's first spaceman addressed a meeting at Shivaji Park.  I recall standing at the Mahalakshmi Temple junction and waving to him as his convoy passed by. Incidentally, this was the very spot where I stood on October 25,1969, and waved to Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins when they visited Mumbai as a part of their worlwide tour post Apollo 11. Over the years this place has become very sacred to me and as far as possible I try to go there everyday--it is just a walking distance from my house--stand there for a few minutes and pray to Mahalakshmi temple just across.

     At the vast terrace of the Russian information centre on Saturday night, I once again approached the Russian diplomat and inquired about the celebrations being planned to mark the anniversary. ``Yes, yes. We are still planning it and I will certainly keep you posted,'' he said. I was excited and said we would be happy to team up with him. Once again his reaction was one of terrific enthusiam.

    With me was the ever jovial director of Nehru Planetarium, Piyush Pandey. When he heard about the possibility of the Russian consulate celebrating the 50th anniv of Gagarin's flight, he too sounded very enthusiastic. Piyush will you be organising any event at the planetarium?

    Yes, there is the Yuri's Night. Yes, this is something one can  look forward to. But, those who participate in it I sincerly feel should be space addicts like me. They should be passionate about space exploration and not attend the programme merely to have fun. Have a ball of a time, but also know at the same time who is Yuri Gagarin!


    My friend, Pradeep Mohandas, celebrates his birthday today  Sept 26. We wish him a very very happy birthday and real starry days ahead. Last year today he celebrated it at the Nehru Science Centre listening to an address by APJ Abdul Kalam and later in the day a presentation by Chandrayaan project director, Mylswamy Annadurai at the same centre which had organised a Chandrayaan event specially for Mumbai school kids.

     Great days ahead.      

Friday, September 24, 2010

All about Chace from one of its creators

        This week is historical for India.  Any guess?  It was this week last year that the two sensational announcements were made about the Indian moon mission, Chandrayaan-1, attaining a major breakthrough--it discovered water. The first one was by Carle Pieters, principal investigator, Moon Minerology Mapper, a Nasa instrument on board Chandrayaan-1 which was followed by the announcement by Madhavan Nair, who was then chairman of Isro. Why Nair had to wait for Carle to make the declaration first is now a matter of speculation. The water was discovered by an instrument on board the indigenous Moon Impact Probe (MIP), called Chandra's Altitudunal Compositon Explorer, or just Chace for short.

       Ever since Chandrayaan-1 was launched on October 22.2008, which incidentally coincides with my birthday and I love to repeat this, a number of books have written about this super mission, including one by me, ``Moonshot India.''  But, unfortunately none of us was really a part of the lunar project officially except perhaps as well wishers and journalists recording the dramatic events, sometimes a bit incorrectly too!!! After all this is an occupational hazard!

       But, now a year later for the first time, we have the story of Chace narrated by none other than one of its creators, Dr Syed Maqbool Ahmed, my very good friend and advisor. He was the project manager for Chace and I congratulate him on his wonderful blog in which he tells the story about Chace. I only wish I can go on reading it. He has given me the `go' to reproduce it in my ``Beyond Moon and Mars,'' blog for the benefit of the public. So here I go, Thank you Syed and I wish your pen a lot of success.

        He is presently working at the University of Hyderabad as principal scientific officer, He has also had a two year stint at Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and joined Isro as a Chandrayaan team member, He says: `` It all started in October 2004, I meet a senior scientist at Isro who promises me that he would try to invite me to Isro as a visiting scientist to develop a space borne instrument. The name appeared stunning to me. Having developed plenty of instruments on the ground, here is an opportunity to send something to the space that too to a romantic stellar body moon. I have always been dreaming of achieving something in my life. I told myself that the time has come and I must take the plunge.''

        He got involved with the design and development of Chace which according to him is one of the most sensitive quadrupole mass spectrometer ever flown into space. ``Chace is a state-of-the-art marvel which is almost 10,000 times more sensitive than the mass spectrometers carried by the Apollo 17 team.'' Apollo 17 was Nasa's last manned mission to the moon in December 1972. He says that though the Apollo equipment ``lived a 8-plus month life, they could never get a reliable data on the day time of the lunar ambience--it could barely get some''

         Interesting details from the man behind Chace, but what amazes me is that why has Isro released thise details on its own website? Strange. He says that Chace had a capacity to measure 100,000 particles/cc can effortlessly thanks to the latest technology embedded in its detection system.

        ``Chace was carefully developed to fulfill the demanding conditions of a lunar mission. It weighs just around 3.3 kg while consuming a meager amount of 20 watts of power. Enormous efforts have been gone through in preparing a payload which should be robust enough to make a lunar journey. Not only the instrument needs to withstand the vibrations during the lift off, it should also be able to live through the harsh environmet of moon.'' he writes.

         In another blog ``Water on the Moon,'' he says ``It was a daring effort for the team members at Space Physics Laboratory, Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre,-Isro, Trivandrum, to develop something which they had done it some 10 years ago during earth's ionospheric studies programme.''

         According to him, within Isro, the Chace instrument was something like a crazy idea where just a group of 4-5 peole would attempt to build the payload from scratch. ``It was a huge task to be accomplished in a period of three years,'' he said.

         Listing the different challenges they faced in developing this payload which has undoubtedly heaped honours on India, he says: ``The Chace instrument did throw many many challenges all along the developmental stages. It was only due to the tiredless and focussed effort of a 4-5 team members that realisation was possible.''

        ``Two months before the launch of Chandrayaan-1 on August 15,2008, the flight model of Chace was handed over to the spacecraft assembly team. ``The next landmark date was 22nd October when we saw our baby taking plunge towards the most beautiful heavenly body.''

         And finally how did the team feel on the night of November 14,2008, when India landed on the moon?
``Our heart beats were moving faster than any racing car on 14th November when the Moon Impact Probe had its successful journey and eventually crashed near the southern lunar pole. Though we all had lost our baby, but it had done its job to the perfection. Nobdy had ever imagined that a team of 5 people with only one senior colleague having had experience in building space probe could achieve could not achieve. Today. 24th September we are on the seventh heaven as our baby is vindicated by the fact that its sacrifice has not gone waste. Of course all my team members are cherishing every moment,'' he concludes.

         Compared to all the other payloads of Chandrayaan-1 I am somewhat emotionally involved with the MIP even though the Terrain Mapping Camera was activated on my daughter, Rimanika's birthday. On September 23,2010, which marked my 21st anniv of my first visit to Sriharikota, I put up to pics in my room--one of the scientist cheering at the Indian Deep Space Network at Byalalu when MIP crash landed
in the south pole region of the moon on the night of November 14,2008, and the other one of the huge screen at the deep space network flashing every second the data as the probe zoomed towards the moon.

         Both these pics make me feel that I am a part of the team and at Byalalu.

         Syed, who has boldly countered the statements made by the American scientists, I think should go on jotting down his recollections about his association with Chace. May be it would lead to a book someday,

         All the very best to you from your good friend.

Thursday, September 23, 2010


      Next week promises to be an important one for our starry-eyed Indian students who are involved in the design and development of student sats. The reason:  they will be making presentations at the 61st International Astronautical Congress to be held in Prague between September 27 and October 1.

     The five-day meeting will see the presence of numerous space leaders from different countries providing an opportunity to our students,who undoubtedly will chart India's space trajectory in the coming years, to interact with them.

      I recall attending the astronautical meet at Hyderabad in 2007 and surely it was the most rewarding experience for space buffs like me.

      At Prague, the Indian student teams will  make presentations about Studsat, India's first pico satellite, and Pratham, a satellite which is being designed and developed by students of IIT Mumbai. On Thursday I had the opportunity to speak to reps of both the satellites about the forthcoming trip.

       Let me first talk about Studsat. Chetan Dixit, a key figure associated with Studsat, said that his group's presentation is scheduled for September 29. Over a brief lunch at the famous Swati restaurant in Tardeo, he said that the Studsat team proceeding to Prague consists of four members. Of these, three are from Bangalore and one from Nagpur.

       He said that the conference organisers, because of the popularity of Studsat have provided free exhibition space. They depart Bangalore for Prague via Dubai early on Saturday morning and return on October 3.

       Studsat was launched on July 12 by the highly-proven four stage Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV), , and according to Chetan its overall performance has been satisfactory.

        I met Chetan at the Czech consulate in Pedder Road after he had collected the his passport and those of his team members. Then with some difficulty we got a cab and drove to the restaurant. The post monsoon heat was becoming unbearable.

        Pradeep Mohandas, secretary of the India chapter of the Moon Society, could not make it because he had some work in college.

        After what might be called a working Mumbai lunch, we parted--Chetan had to return to his cousin's place at Lower Parel before proceeding to the airport to catch the flight back to Bangalore. And as for me--I had to hunt for a cyber cafe since my computer had conked out which is pretty frequent. After walking in the heat, I finally found one near Chowpatty. On completion of the security formalities, I was provided a terminal and began punching my report about Mission Prague for The Times of India.  I was all the time aware that the report after all  might not make it to print because of acute space constraints in the newspaper--what with hundred things happening all over Mumbai and the country. We are thus used to seeing our reports remaining in the computers of our editors for days!

        But the reward this afternoon was talking to Chetan.

        About the Mumbai-based  Pratham team, it is leaving for Prague on Friday night to make a presentation on September 27 and 28 at the astronautical congress. Their visit has been funded by IIT Mumbai. I had interacted with them earlier on June 19 and for me it was an educative experience.

         Pratham, a 10 kg satellite, with a four-month life span is tenatively slated for launch next year on board the PSLV.

        After Prague the six-member group will fly to Paris in connection with the ground station specially for Pratham. For the team therefore it is from one `P' to another `P' in connection with another `P' which is Pratham. Therefore their mission consists of three `Ps'----Pratham, Prague and Paris! They return on October 10.

          All the very best to both the teams.




Wednesday, September 22, 2010

One year ago today--water on the moon

         The night of September 22,2009 is something I will always remember. Also I will never forget the BEST bus stop opposite the The Times of India at VT. That day as usual I left office--The Times of India--around 8,30 p.m. and was waiting for the 133 bus when my cell rang. It was my friend Pradeep Mohandas, a space enthu like me, and who subsequently became the secretary of the India chapter of the Moon Society.

         Pradeep who constantly monitors developments in the space sector globally alerted me that there was buzz in space circles that an important development is expected to take place with regards to Chandrayaan-1. From his sources he came to know that there were indications that the Rs 386-crore Indian lunar mission had discovered water on the moon. Thank you Pradeep.

        On hearing this I rushed back to the office and alerted the news desk which in turn informed the exec ed , Jaideep Bose or Jojo. as we call him., in New Delhi.  Jojo is a very energetic and enthusiastic ed and if he is convinced that a story is good be sure of a prominent display in all the editions of the Toi. Jojo immediately called me on my cell and asked me put together a story giving a lot of background.

        I then got in touch my contacts in Isro in Bangalore. Due to strict protocol which is pretty unnecessary, all that my contact would say was:  ``I also heard that there is some important development but I have no official confirmation as yet. Nasa is making some important announcement in two days,'' he said. He declined to say anything more.

        I then filed a speculative story raising a question whether Chandrayaan-1 had found water on the moon?  The next morning--September 23, 2009-- when the Toi reached my doorstep at our Breach Candy flat in Mumbai, I found that the report had been splashed on page 1. My God I said to myself! What if the report was wrong and no water had been found on the moon, but some minerals instead?

        September 23 2009 was a day I spent with a degree of nervous apprehension surfing all the space related sites to check if there was some hint that Chandrayaan-1 had discovered water on the moon. There was none. I was convinced that I had gone wrong! I was constantly in touch with Pradeep and he said that officially he had heard nothing. I knew I had taken a calculated risk on such an important issue. I remembered two Nasa scientists announcing years ago at a Washington press conference about the discovery of life on Mars which subsequently proved to be wrong,baseless and a hasty declaration.

        What caused me more uneasiness was that Carle Pieters, principal investigator of Nasa's Moon Minerology Mapper (M3), one of the two Nasa payloads on board Chandrayaan-1, was make to an important announcement about the Indian moon mission at a Washington media briefing later that day (Washington time). Sitting in front of my com I was speculating what she would be announcing.

        The next day--Sept 24-- I reached office early and dashed into my windowless room. I activitated the TV which is just above my desk. I surfed various channels and there was no news about Chandrayaan. But a while later there was a pause in one of the channels and came an important breaking news. What was it? I stood up and went close to the TV to watch and listen. What was it? The breaking news announced that Chandrayaan had discovered water on the moon. Great, I said to myself and felt tremendously relieved. The Chandrayaan mission and Toi had after all done it. It was time I felt to uncork not a bottle of water, but champagne (Pradeep r u listening!)  I immediately informed Pradeep and Jojo, I was saved.

        Jojo splashed the Nasa announcement as the lead story while acknowledging the Toi report the previous day.

         Tonight, I would have returned to the very BEST bus stop opposite the Toi which had played an important role in my professional life to personally recreate the events last year. But I cannot because of traffic diversions on account of the colourful Ganapathy immersions. But almost daily I take a bus from the stop in the afternoons to return home after completing some assignment in downtown Mumbai.

         As far as my mobile is concerned, my wife, Usha and daughter, Rimanika, jocularly call it vintage and want me to go in for a new one. But I am emotionally attached to it as it has taken me to the moon!


Monday, September 20, 2010

Chace chases Carbon Dioxide

       We have done it again. Almost a year ago came the news that India's maiden moon mission, Chandrayaan-1, had traced water vapour close to the moon.

      And now a year later this mission has scored another triumph. A recent report published in the British space journal, ``Planetary and Space Science,'' says that Chandrayaan-1 has discovered carbon dioxide in the moon. This was done through one of the three scientific instruments on board the indigenous Moon Impact Probe (MIP) called Chace, short for Chandra's Altitudunal Composition Explorer. MIP was one of the 11 payloads on board Chandrayaan.

     According to the report prepared by a team of Isro scientists led by R.Sridharan.Chace is a quadrupole mass analyser based instrument with its own inbuilt ion source. It states that Chace was switched on 20 minutes before the release of MIP from 40 degrees north latitude at an orbital altitude of 98 km.

     Chace was operated twice during the mission, once for a short duration of 10 minutes in a rehearsal mode and the second time for 44 minutes. The report says: ``---it is believed that the C02 detected by Chace is of lunar origin only, which is the first direct (in situ) experimental confirmation of the prediction regarding the C02 dominance of the sunlit lunar atmosphere.''

     ``The significant amount of C02 and large enhancement of H20 in addition to the significant presence of the heavier species are considered very important results. The distinct possibility of the fragile lunar atmospheric system getting altered due to the impact of the past and present exploratory missions does exist and a systematic is called for addressing the issue,'' the report states.

     But, so typical of the Americans that some US scientists have challenged this discovery of carbon dioxide by Chace saying that a crucial instrument calibration data to clinch the discovery is missing from the Indian study.

     But Sridharan has countered the criticism saying that repeated calibration while the spacecraft was in orbit would have required additional power and more complex circuitry.    


Sunday, September 19, 2010


       In a hi tech clean room, at Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL ) in California, the next mission to Mars is steadily getting off the ground.

      Scientists and engineers wearing special white clothes and with their faces covered are now working on a Mars rover christened Curiosity. The mission, slated for lift off in November-December 2011, will reach the Red Planet in August 2012. Its main role: to see if life could possibly exist on Mars.

      A major part of the mission as usual will be the rover and for the last one month the team at JPL has been examining Curiosity's robotic arm which can extend upto 7.5 feet and when completed will weigh 73 pounds.

      As the mission is just a little more than a year away, Nasa this week listed five important aspects of Curiosity.

      First--How Big Is It?  According to Nasa, Curiosity is bigger than Spirit, Opportunity and Pathfinder. These were the earlier Martian rovers. That is not all. Curiosity is four times as heavy Spirit and Opportunity. So one can well imagine its massive dimensions.

       Second--Landing of Curiosity on Mars: The landing sites have been narrowed down to four finalists, all linked to ancient wet conditions. Also the site has to meet the safe landing criteria. The landing system, accordng to Nasa, will be similar to a sky crane heavy lift helicopter. After a parachute slows the rover's descent towards Mars, a rocket-powered backpack will lower the rover on a tether during the final moments before landing.

       Nasa says that this method will allow a landing of a large heavy rover on Mars instead of the airbag landing system of the previous rovers,

      Third--toolkit: There will be 10 science instruments to examine rocks, soil and the atmosphere. A laser will vapourise patches of rock from a distance and another instrument will search for organic components.

      Four---Big Wheels: Curiosity's wheels' diameter is double that of Spirit and Opportunity. Also each of them has an independent drive motor. The two front and two rear wheels also have independent steering motors. This will allow the rover to make a 360 degree turn in place.

     Five----Rover power: A nuclear battery will allow Curiosity to operate year round and further from the equator than would be possible only with solar power, says Nasa.

      So bon voyage Curiosity, We are curious to know what you are going to reveal about Mars. Happy and successful landing on Mars. 

Denmark aims for the stars.

           Do you know that Denmark is exploring the possibility of launching a manned mission to space? Yes. And interestingly the effort does not come from the government, but from a private group of space enthusiasts. We wish them all the best.

          And here is another bit of surprise relating to this project. The trial unmanned flight was to take off last week. But it had to be scrubbed. The reason?  Hard to believe, but it was hair dryer which was the culprit preventing the launch!

, a well known space website, reports that on Sunday (September 12), the maiden launch of a private-built Danish rocket was cancelled because of a snag in the powerless hair dryer which was part of the rocket.

          According to the website, it was the first launch of the Tycho Brahe space capsule which can accommodate a single crew member. The capsule has been so designed that the astronaut can get a full view during the ride. The flight plan envisaged the rocket zooming into an altitude of 30 kms into the upper atmosphere. While descending, a drogue parachute and three main parachutes would be activated and carry the capsule back for recovery in the sea.

         The capsule was placed atop the Hybrid Exo Atmospheric Transporter-1X or HEAT-1X and literally all was a `go' for launch. Excitement and tension built up, until the snag in the hair dryer was detected and the mission was called off to the disappointment of many, particularly Peter Madsen and Kristan von Bengston of Copenhagen Suborbitals, a non profit organisation, which is handling this challenging space programme. They have expressed confidence that their flight would succeed at a later date.
 says that the problem was noticed when a liquid oxygen valve in the rocket got stuck after a hair dryer lost electric power. This in turn exposed the valve to icy temperatures near the Danish island of Bornholm--the launch site--causing difficulties which resulted in the mission being scrubbed. The ultimate aim of the programme was to launch a human into space.

          If someday, their plan materialises and Denmark does succeed in putting a man in space, it would become the fourth nation to join the exclusive club of countries having a human spaceflight programme--the other three being the US, Russia and China. Wake up India! 

          Madsen's home made submarine christened ``Nautilius'' had towed the floating platform to its launch site. The ``Nautilius'' engine supplied power for the for the hair dryer which was to keep the liquid oxygen valve from freezing. But, the submarine's engine was shut down for the launch. Then, a brief delay in the lift off may have led to the problem, speculates

          The two are not novices in the rocket business because von Bengston is by profession an aerospace engineer who has worked with Nasa on the moon and Mars programmes. Both he and Madsen gathered 19 space buffs who supported them.

          Apart from aiming for a manned mission, the maiden flight would have allowed the Danish team to test among other things offshore launch concepts, high speed aerodynamic properties of the vehicle, engine performance and recovery scenarios, according to

           So in the not-too-distant-future do not be surprised if you hear a Danish guy is orbiting the earth.


Friday, September 17, 2010

Indian students at Astronautical congress

       Indian students are all set to leave their mark at the forthcoming International Astronautical Congress to be held at Prague between September 24 and October 1.

       On Friday, ``Beyond Moon and Mars,'' along with secretary of India chapter of Moon Society, Pradeep Mohandas, met two students who have played a key role in the design, development and launch of the country's first pico satelllite, Studsat. They were Chetan Dixit and Prithvi Raj Narendra, who incidentally has his home at India's gateway to the moon and Mars, Sriharikota. Lucky guy--I envy him because that is where I want to stay!

       For the last few months I have been regularly interacting with Chetan over the telephone about Studsat, but this was the first time that I had the honour of meeting him. Really it was a great experience interacting with both of them. They had come to Mumbai to apply for the Czech visas which they got.

       Along with some other team members, they are scheduled to make a presentation at the prestigious astronautical congress about Studsat. All the very best folks. More about Indian students at Prague in the blogs next week.

       Prithvi's dad is a doc at the hospital in Sriharikota and Prithvi recalled watching the launch of Chandrayaan-1 from the terrace of the hospital, and I was at the terrace of the Brahm Prakash hall recording every moment for The Times of India.

       Studsat was flown into its orbit by the highly-proven four-stage, Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (Pslv) on July 12,2010.

       Over lunch at the newly-opened Komalas restaurant in Phoenix city, Chetan provided a detailed account of the post-launch scenario and overall its performance seemed satisfactory to him. He said that they were planning the next mission, ``Studsat-2,'' and was looking for a name for it. Any ideas? Came to know that Pradeep too had at one time worked on a satellite project.

       Then after a quick tour of the massive shopping mall, we headed for the Nehru Planetarium where its very affable director, Piyush Pandey, provided us a brief demonstration. As usual, he gave Chetan and Prithvi an astronomy dvd.

       I showed them a model of the Aryabhatta--India's first satellite which was launched what was then the Soviet Union--which is prominently displayed in the first floor lobby of the planetarium, but could not show them the model of the Sputnik and other rockets as the room was locked. But for the extremely rude behaviour of a security guard outside the auditorium--I guess his name was Kansare or something close to that---we had a fine time at the planetarium thanks to my good friend Piyush, and Chetan and Prithvi found it a memorable experience.

       From the planetarium, we came home where we discussed for some time mainly space---it was after all space which brought all of us together.

       And I hope it remains that way.




Thursday, September 16, 2010

To The Moon

     The prestigious journal, ``Science,'' in its issue dated September 17 has made some important revelations based on the data obtained from Nasa's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), according to Nasa.

     According to this study, the moon's surface is more complex than previously thought and was bombarded by two distinct populations of asteroids or comets in its youth. Interestingly, the study has been released on the eve of the global moon watch night which is on September 18.

     Two of the papers in ``Science,'' describe the data LRO's radiometer experiment which focus on the complex geological processes that forged the lunar surface. ``For the first time the Diviner instrument has provided scientists with global high resolution infra red maps of the moon, enabling them to make a definitive identification of silicate minerals commonly found within its crust,'' it says

      The new Diviner data will help in selecting the appropriate landing sites for potential robotic missions which will return samples from the moon.


      While Nasa is talking about robotic missions, the European Space Agency has just concluded an agreement which ulimately aims towards the possibility of launching a human mission to the moon.

       It is planning a lander which will touchdown autonomously with pinpoint precision near the moon's south pole, a region full of dangerous boulders and high ridges, according to the Friday's issue of Spacedaily,com, an authoritative website devoted to the developments in the international space sector.

       This is significant because Chandrayaan-2 slated for lift off in 2013 is aiming to place its lander in the south pole region suggesting that in future this particular part of the moon could perhaps turn into an area rivalry among different moon-bound nations. Data obtained from Nasa's LRO also speaks of the same zone in the moon where further research could take place.International politics, therefore, can move from the earth to the moon!
       Spacedaily states that the aim of ESA's project is to study the moonscape's unknowns and test new technology to prepare for future human landings. The precursor mission is slated for lift off in 2018. The region may be a prime location for human explorers because it offers almost continuous sunlight for power and potential access to vital resources such as water ice.

        The most recent topographic data covering the moon's south pole will be analysed in detail to locate the promising landing sites. ``The target area is poorly understood and only now we are beginning to receive the information needed to consider landing and operation there,'' it says.



For modified version of interview

Madan Lal

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


      The Hall of Harmony at the Nehru Centre in Worli was packed on Wednesday evening mostly by students all eager to hear a presentation by the internationally renowned astrophycisist, Jayant Narlikar. about old stars. They all began to trickle into the auditorium around 4,45 p.m. And at sharp 5 p.m. the lecture started aided by a power point presentation.

      The audience were glued to their chairs and sat in pin drop silence as Narlikar started speaking. There were charts, diagrams and figures.

       When the presentation concluded at about 6 p.m. I really wondered whether I had attended a science colloquium meant only for astronomers or a public lecture which is intended to popularise science. Narlikar incidentally is on a mission to popularise science. But, he should be aware that a sizeable percentage of the audience or not scientists.

        Though undoubtedly, there was a lot of depth, it was,however, not presented in a public-friendly manner. The scientific jargon which were constantly used seemed incomprehensible to many. It was undoubtedly an important topic. But certainly it should have been presented in a more interesting and simple way which could be understood by a lay person. Unfortunately this was not the case on Wednesday evening.

        Narlikar's presentation did trigger a lot of questions from the youngsters. But again, they were mainly from science students who perhaps had some knowledge about the topic. A woman sitting behind me asked  whether I would be doing a report for The Times of India. When I replied that for a lay reader it really made no sense, her prompt response was: ``I could not be in greater agreement with you.''

        This reminds me of the six articles which I have just read by none other than Carl Sagan during the Viking landing on Mars in 1976. Though the subject was tough, yet he has written them  in a simple way which would interest everyone--not only spacebuffs like me. He has really taken the trouble of popularising the Viking mission to the public. Each and every aspect of the project has been written in a manner which educate and inform the ordinary reader rathen than confuse him.

         Indian scientists giving public talks must I think emulate the example of Carl Sagan. No offence meant please.


         Yesterday my friend Pradeep Mohandas  had a surprise for me. He sent me a mail which took me to the US-based Planetary Society in which Emily Lakdawalla who regularly writes a space blog had hosted the Voyager bulletins.

          These bulletins now have a historical value and they provided the mission status report after the Voyager launch in 1977. It was one of the greatest interplanetary space projects ever undertaken with Voyager-2 completing 12,000 days of continuos operation on June 28,2010. Launched on August 20,1977, it has flown more than 21 billion kms.

           Voyager 1 reached this milestone on July 13,2010 and has travelled 22 billion kms. It was launched on September 5,1977, coincendally on the very day my blog was launched this year!  I hope it succeeds like the Voyager missions!!!!!!!!!!!!

           The bulletins published by Nasa contain various aspects of the mission and the one day dated August 16,1977, contains a box about the launch day activities. The bulletins contain diagrams about the spacecraft, photographs of the planets and the flight schedule, just to highlight some of the features.

           I have taken a print out of some of the bulletins. In my room I have a picture of the Voyager mission clock which gives the local time of the deep space network at Madrid, Canberra and Goldstone. I have also downloaded a small video of the Voyager mission.

           Space experts guess that both the spacecraft will remain operational till 2017.

           Thank you Emily.





Madan Lal Singla--Chandrayaan's Moon Impact Probe

     Next week marks the first anniversary of the important announcement regarding the discovery of water on the moon by Isro and Nasa. Isro's Moon Impact Probe (MIP) was first to discover water vapour though one of its payloads--the Chandra Altitudunal Composition Explorer (Chace)--during its 25-minute flight to the moon on the night of November 14,2008. Soft spoken MADAN LAL SINGLA who joined Isro on the very day Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin stepped on the surface of the moon on July 21,1969 (India time), was project director of MIP. He spoke to ``Beyond Moon and Mars'' on Wednesday about his experiences:

image source Isro
     Beyond Moon and Mars (BMM) :Sir the MIP was a last minute addition to the Chandrayaan mission. When you were given the task of leading this prestigious project which literally placed India on the moon what was your feeling?

     Madan Lal Singla (MLS):  The decision to include the MIP was taken much before the Udaipur lunar conference in November 2004. The announcement about its inclusion was made at the meeting. It was decided that the weight of the MIP had to be within 30 kg. I was absolutely elated when I was given the task of leading this important project. Initially, the scientific community was not in favour of the having the MIP as it felt that it would not have much scientific value and it wanted the probe to be only a technology payload. Our former chairman Madhavan Nair also felt that it should be only a technology payload. But, I insisted that the Chace payload on board the MIP had scientific value and finally it became both a scientific-cum-technology payload successfully fulfilling all its missions.

      BMM: According to you what was the most challenging aspect of designing and developing the MIP?

      MLS:   Developing each and every sub system was a major challenge. The Chace payload was an extremely difficult payload to develop. It was commercial and had to be space qualified which was a heruculian task, and it was the same case with the camera too. The whole thing had to operate under difficult conditions. Before release on November 14,2008, we had to check all the sub systems to see if they were working properly and we were happy that everything was fine. During descent the MIP was spun to minimise disturbances caused by its impact on the moon's surface.  

      BMM:  On the night of November 14, 2008, which was the much-awaited landing day you were in the Chandrayaan mission operations control room at Bangalore though you had retired from Isro by then. Can you describe the mood in the control room that important day when the Indian flag was placed on the moon?.

      MLS:  I along with the other scientists was watching all the signals on the big screens as the MIP flew towards the moon at a speed of 1.63 kms per second. The entire landing sequence had been simulated earlier on the ground. Getting closer towards the moon, the velocity of the MIP was reduced by firing its solid motor.   Then at sharp 8.31 p.m. the signals discontinued and we knew that the MIP had crash landed on the moon. The mood in the control room turned instantly escatic. We were extremely happy that we were able to put the Indian tri colour on the moon. I was most happy that I had succeeded in doing a very challenging job, It was done and I must thank and express my gratitude to my dedicated team for the success of the MIP. Though we were a later addition, we had executed the job perfectly. The MIP took three-and-a-half years to design and develop and we had succeeded though we were a later addition.

      BMM: After a strenous three-and-a-half years of hard work which resulted in India becoming the sixth member of the exclusive global lunar club, the MIP was destroyed on impact on the lunar surface. How did you feel at that moment, By chance did you feel youre efforts were wasted?

       MLS: Not at all. It was intended to be that way. It was a very successful flight and its mission objectives were met cent per cent.

       BMM: Was the Indian tri colour which had been painted on the sides of the MIP also destroyed on impact?

       MLS: The tri colour had a special material which had to withstand the temperatures. A private industry had fabricated it and it was etched on the sides of the MIP. On impact the screws which were used to fix the plates with the tri colour came off from the MIP and the flag fell on the surface of the moon. It was designed to be that way. Therefore though the MIP itself was destroyed, the flags could still be intact on the surface of the moon. If someone goes there they can perhaps see the flags!!!

        BMM: On what basis was the landing site near the Shackelton Crater chosen?

        MLS:  We wanted a place where there was light and it had to be a flat surface.

         BMM:  One of the roles of the MIP was to help in identifying future landing zones. Did it fulfill this role?

         MLS:  Yes certainly. In all probability I think the lander of Chandrayaan-2 could soft land at the spot in which the MIP crash landed.

          BMM: Next week marks the first anniversary of the announcement about the discovery of water by Isro and Nasa. It was MIP's Chace which was the first to identify water vapour on November 14,2008,while descending towards the moon. But this achievement has not received much recognition and it is unfortunate that Nasa has walked away with the trophy which should have actually gone to Isro's MIP team. Would you like to comment about this?

         MLS:  Yes, I am a bit disappointed about this this and I really feel that the MIP team deserved more credit for its achievement. I do not why we had to wait for confirmation from Nasa. We should have made the announcement about the discovery first and taken credit. Well I would rather not talk about this unfortunate development.

         BMM: Why is it that the video of MIP's descent towards the moon not been hosted in Isro's website? Nor about the discovery of water vapour.

        MLS:  I do not know. I believe in doing a job and then forgetting about it. In certain things you do not have control.

        BMM: After Chandrayaan-2 what?

        MLS:  If we are planning seriously about using the moon as a platform we certainly need more missions. We certainly cannot stop with just one or two missions. Finally for a manned mission to the moon we need a bigger launch vehicle.


Monday, September 13, 2010

New rocket taking shape

        Even as the US debates about the merits and demerits about embarking on manned space missions, a new type of rocket is steadily taking shape in the computers of Nasa scientists and engineers at various centres. Right now it is a concept and sounds like a thrilling sci-fi. But if it becomes a reality, rest assured that it will be the next giant leap in space, according to Nasa.

       The revoluationary plan envisages designing and developing a wedge-shaped aircraft with scramjets which will be launched horizontally on an electrified track or gas-powered sled. The unusually-shaped aircraft would lift off reaching a whopping speed of Mach 10 which is 10 times the speed of sound within minutes.

      Then with the help of the scramjets and wings it will fly into the upper reaches of the atmosphere. Once it reaches this point a small payload canister or capsule which is similar to a rocket's second stage will fire off from a point close to the tail of the aircraft and zoom into orbit---it will shoot off either to a planet or perhaps even a star, says Nasa.

       Once this manourvre is completed, the aircraft will return and get ready for another mission. Space experts says that it employs the concept of a resusable launch vehicle (RLV) which can bring down the launch costs. The development undoubtedly will be of interest to Indian space scientists because a RLV is also being designed at Isro's Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre in Thiruvanathanapuram.

       Though the US plan, appears like a dream project at the moment, Nasa's Stan Starr, branch chief of the Applied Physics Laboratory at the Kennedy Space Centre, has emphasised that nothing in the design calls for brand new technology. However, he says, the system counts on a number of existing technologies which have to be pushed forward.

       Nasa and American universities have already done significant research in the field including testing small scale tracks at Nasa's Marshall Space Flight Centre in Huntsville where Wernher Von Braun developed the awesome Saturn engines which took Apollo to the moon.

       As far as aircraft that would launch on the rail, there are already real world tests. To cite a few examples, these include the X-43A or the Hyper X-programme and the X-51 project. They have shown that scramjets will work and can achieve remarkable speed.

       The Advanced Space Launch System is not a replacement of the space shuttle which is due to be phased out in 2011, but can be used to fly astronauts after unmanned missions chalk up enough successes.

       Where will it head is worth watching keeping in view the Constellation scenario.

       Get ready to toast a glass at moon parties this Saturday night .

       On September 18,2010, moon lovers all over the world will observe the first ``International Observe the Moon Night.'' It is part of an outreach project to spur public interest in the moon and perhaps even amateur astronomy.

        In 1609, when Galileo first focussed on the moon with his crude telescope, he expressed his admiration and wonder by writing: ``A most beautiful and rapturous sight to does not possess a smoothe and polished surface, but is rough and uneven and similar to the earth itself, is everywhere full of vast protuberances, deep chasms and sinuosities.''

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Chandrayaan and Beyond

       Just finished a hardbound 358-page book about the Indian Moon Mission called ``Chandrayaan and Beyond: Indian Space Exploration Programme New Findings About The Moon.''  The writer is a physicist, Dr Pawan Sikka. I ordered this book from Strand Book Stall , Mumbai, minutes after my friend Pradeep Mohandas, secy India Chapter of Moon Society, mentioned it to me. I wasted no time in ordering this book since I am passionate about Chandrayaan and had the opportunity to cover the mission right from its inception to date for The Times of India.

      The jacket of the book describes the author as Ph.d, D.Sc, M.Sc, a visiting fellow of Science Policy Studies, University of Oxford, former scientist advisor, department of science and technology and a visiting professor of New Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University.

       Very impressive qualifications indeed, but the quality of the presentation of this book should have matched it. Hats off to Sikka for painstakingly collecting data from various newspapers and interviews, but unfortunately they have been arranged in a haphazard manner which reflects poor editing by the publishers. The advantage of such a book is that if the reader, by chance, missed reading something in a particular page, he or she is sure to find it another page! As a result one feels that the book is the result of a contribution by several people and not just a single individual.

       How many times has the date of the launch of Chandrayaan-1,--October 22, 2008--which incidentally coincides with my birthday--been repeated this book. Similarly, various other facts have also been repeated like for example the names of the 11 scientific instruments which were carried by the spacecraft. Surely, the publishers--Uppal Publishing House--could have exercised greater care while editing the book knowing that it would be in considerable demand from spacebuffs like me, science students and perhaps even the general public.

       There are several proof reading mistakes apart from factual errors. The weight of the Moon Impact Probe (MIP) which crash landed on the south pole region of the moon on the night of November 14, 2008, has been mentioned differently in various pages: its actual weight according to Isro was 29 kg. Also, the author quotes a coconut vendor outside Sriharikota who claims to have witnessed the launch of Aryabhatta at Sriharikota. This satellite was launched in Russia and it is impossible to believe that this vendor could see the majestic lift off in the former Soviet Union from Sriharikota!

        Now for the plus points. Despite its drawbacks, one does feel like reading some parts of the book again and again. For instance the flight of the MIP particularly from pages 232 to 236 has been described so well that I have taken a photocopy of this dramatic account for constant reading. The interviews with the scientists also throws interesting light on some hitherto unknown aspects of the Chandrayaan mission. It was also a good idea to include quotes from the students of Space Central School whose parents played a role in the lunar project.

        The book has been published in 2010 making it the latest addition to the list of volumes about Chandrayaan. Considering that it is the newest publication, one wonders why the author has not highlighted in detail a major breakthrough by Chandrayaan---the discovery of water exactly a year ago. This find triggered a controversy because Indian space scientists who were involved with the design and development of Chace ( Chandra Altidudunal Composition Explorer)--one of the three payloads on board the MIP--felt that their efforts have been sidelined.

        By Mr Madhavan Nair's own admission, it was MIP which first traced water vapour while zooming down towards the moon on November 14,2008. But, Nasa walked away with the credit and so far India has made no attempts to set right this mistake--something extremely unfortunate. This has come to be known as Moongate like Watergate. It is perhaps for this reason that in Chandrayaan-2, Isro has decided to keep off foreign payloads atleast initially in the orbiter.

        Overall rating: Average.


        Isro has displayed in its website the evolution of the Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft from 2004 to 2008 through artist impressions.

        An excellent idea but there is no description to say why it has done this.

        Also it is time Isro thinks of starting a link about Chandrayaan-2.