Friday, October 15, 2010

Planetary Society goes to Mars

         Here is a path breaking experiment on the Russian sample return mission to Mars, Phobos-Grunt, slated for launch in 2011. It is exciting and could have a long term impact on future flights looking for life on other planets. The Mars mission is of significance to India in a way because the lander which will fly on Phobos-Grunt will be the prototype of the one on Chandrayaan-2.

        This very unusual experiment on Phobos Grunt has been mainly designed and developed by the US Planetary Society. According to the society, the plan envisages sending a collection of living organisms on a three-year-trip to Phobos, a Martian moon, and back to earth. The interesting project has been designated as LIFE,  a short form for Living Interplanetary Flight Experiment. The society explains that the purpose of the experiment is to help scientists to better understand the nature of life, its robustness and ability or not to move between planets. It will focus on the possibility that life can travel from planet to planet inside rocks, blasted off by impact to land another planet surface.

        An example cited by the society is that if a rock on earth contained life and were blasted off from earth could it survive till it reached Mars?  The mission architecture stipulates that the spacecraft will land on Phobos, collect dirt and rocks from its surface and then fly back to earth. The society says that as it swoops back by earth, the spacecraft will release a capsule containing all the samples gathered on Phobos to land on earth. Attached to the capsule for the entire 34-month journey will be a small flat cylinder containing the microbes.

       The project is being executed in colloboration with the Space Research Institute, the Institute of Biomedical Problems of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow State University, the American Type Culture Collection and the Institute of Aerospace Medicine in Germany. The Phobos Grunt Mission, which was conceived in 1999, is a project of the Russian Space Agency, Roscosmos.

       Apart from the significance of the mission, it has also raised an imporant question relating to the future of India's moon missions. The lander on Phobos-Grunt is a prototype of the one which will go on India's second mission to the moon in 2013, Chandrayaan-2.

       Here is the question--Is India thinking of Chandrayaan-3, a sample return mission from the Moon based on the experience of Phobos-Grunt?




No comments:

Post a Comment