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.