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!


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