Thursday, October 21, 2010

Oct 22---Chandrayaan launch second anniv

           October 22 2008. 6.22 a.m. The mighty work horse of Isro, the four-stage Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) roars into life, carrying a precious spacecraft. The destination?  The moon. I was among the hundreds of mediapersons clapping excitedly witnessing the grand lift off from the terrace of Brahm Prakash hall at Sriharikota. The name of the spacecraft. Chandrayaan-1. It was a super birthday gift for me!

           October 22,2009. The first anniv of the launch of Chandrayaan-1. I celebrated it in Bangalore with the launch of my book ``Moonshot India,'' which is about Chandrayaan. The book was launched by Isro Satellite director, Dr.T.K.Alex. Chandrayaan project director, Mylswamy Annadurai, was present on the occasion, apart from a large number of Isro officials.

           October 22,2010. Nothing really planned for the mission's second anniv. But I will celebrate it in my own way by writing this blog based on the presentation given by my good friend, Syed Maqbool, who played a key role in the design and development of the Chandra Altitudunal Composition Explorer (Chace) which was one of the three payloads on board the Moon Impact Probe (MIP). MIP was one of the five indigenous payloads of Chandrayaan-1. Remember it was Chace which discovered water and carbon diaxide on the moon.

           He gave this presentation in January at the TED Hitech City in Hyderabad which threw light on some of the unknown aspects of Chace. Syed began by saying that after the Pokhran n-weapons tests a need was felt to do something spectacular on the scientific front. After a lot of discussions, the question was posed as to why not go to the moon?  The decision was backed by scientists.

          Said Syed: ``Space research is ruthless. But not as ruthless as Russian roulette. If hundred decisions are taken and if the scientists had made even less than one per cent mistake, we would never have gone to the moon.''  In this context, he said that solar radiation provides a gentle push to the spacecraft. If there a slight variation in this, the spacecraft would never have been captured by the moon/s gravity. He cited the example of Nasa's Ranger missions to the moon, where out of the nine flights, only three were captured by the moon.

         Calling his presentation ``The Chace Saga: From The Earth To The Moon,''he asked what was the secret behind Chandrayaan's success?  He told the audience that though Dr Kalam was a bachelor, he still had a baby. It was the Moon Impact Probe (MIP). ``Kalam gave a four-point PPT and explained why at a meeting of scientists why India should embrace the moon.'In the MIP, we have sent our Chace,'' he said. Chace tried to look for water and tritium. ``This instrument was was the first to discover water in the first go, but the credit has gone to Nasa. This happened because of peer review we could not declare our findings earlier,'' he said.

          Said Syed: ``If we had to develop the instrument on our own, it would have taken 20 years. So we decided to follow the best way and acquired the gadgets through shopping and ruggedised and reinforced it. The commercial equipment was reinforced through epoxy acquired from Seden,We  followed the Indian Remote Sensing Satellites heritage,'' he told the audience. The electrical capicators and replaced with tantalum capicators so that it can survive the space environment.

          An interesting point mentioned by him was that through mechanical reinforcement the MIP was able to withstand 22g during the launch of the PSLV `` This was a big challenge. The maximum g experienced by a fighter pilot is five gs. ``We started with a commercial instrument and ended up space-qualified,'' he said.

          He said that the average age of the team was mid 30s and none had any clue about space engineering. ``We were told to dare to dream.''           

          ``I have worked for Nasa for two years and Isro combines both Western and Indian cultures. Its western system allows you to question even the highest official freely and observes the Indian way by following the hierachal system,'' he added. 

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