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.

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