Thursday, November 25, 2010

IAA and Planetary robotic exploration

     Not many perhaps are aware that all these years there has been a rivalry between two of Nasa's key space centres--the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) at Pasadena in California, and the Johnson Space Centre at Houson which is dedicated to manned space flights.

     While the former has always insisted that unmanned interplanetary space probes have made a lot of new discoveries and attained scientific breakthroughs, and thus are better than manned space missions, the Houston team feels just the opposite.This controversy has raged for years and top officials of Nasa at the agency's HQ in Washington are also divided on this issue. In the opinion of ``Beyond Moon and Mars (BMM)'' while the Apollo manned missions to the moon between 1969 and 1972 were undoubtedly a great technogical feat, scientifically,however, were of little significance--a fact aknowledged by none other than Nasa itself. Also what was the real scientific gain by astronauts and cosmonauts visiting the International Space Station?

     It is in this context, that the equal importance given to human space flight as well as planetary robotic exploration at the International Academy of Astronautics (IAA) conference on November 17 2010 in Washington assumes significance.

     BMM on Thursday had highlighted IAA's report about human space flight project. Today it is about planetary robotic exploration, though not in much detail.

     The report says: ``We have reached the stage at which our robotic explorers must be even more sophisticated and capable, and they must operate successfully in a wider range of environments throughout the solar system, if we are to answer the next set of compelling scientific questions, many of which are directed at the age-old question: ``Did life arise elsewhere outside the earth?''

      It says a programme of significantly expanded breadth and depth will be required that is well beyond the means of any given nation to pursue alone.

      According to the IAA document the robotic explorers ``should pave the way for expanded human exploration through attainment of critical knowledge of relevant destinations.''

      When it talks about life outside the earth, could it mean planets other than Mars? 

      This question needs to be answered.


     Sorry Discovery.

         The highly jinxed space shuttle ``Discovery's'' launch could be resked into Christmas or even February 2011.

         This has become necessary because of the massive repairs which have to be carried out to the shuttle's external tanks.

         The other factor which is upsetting the launch sked is the uncertain weather at the Kennedy Space Centre.

         When Discovery roars off the launch pad at the Kennedy Space Centre--whenever it is--be sure of a rousing send off! And also a grand welcome when it returns after 11 days. This will be its last mission---assuming of course that the shuttle does take off someday!!  

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