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.

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