Nov 14 2008. 7 p.m. Children's Day and Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru's birthday were being celebrated all over India. In about 90 minutes or so India will be making world history. But for a different reason. There was an air of excitement and thrill in our house at Breach Candy in Mumbai. I switched on the TV, paper and pen in my hand, and sat in front of it watching the live coverage of a thrilling unfolding drama, at the end of which India will be catapulted into the Big League of Nations.
What was the coverage all about? It was about the first unmanned landing on the moon by India which was about 90 minutes away. The Moon Impact Probe (MIP) with the tri colour painted on all its sides having three payloads--the Chandra's Altitudunal Composition Explorer (Chace), a radar altimeter and the Moon Imaging System-was zooming towards the moon at that very moment and will be crash landing close to the Shackleton crater in the south pole region of the moon at 8.31 p.m. Saying that I was excited would indeed be an understatement!
. The MIP was one of the 11 payloads on board Chandrayaan-1 and is often described as Dr Abdul Kalam's baby since he conceived the idea of India embracing the moon during the Chandrayaan-1 mission. . Needless to say of all these it was Chace which has become visible both nationally and internationally because it successfully detected water and carbon diaxide on November 14,2008. Congrats Syed. Keep it up. My good friend Syed Maqbool was the project manager of Chace.
All the tv channels were covering the moon landing in considerable detail, both from the Isro telemetry, tracking and command network (Istrac) at Bangalore and the Indian Deep Space Network at Byalalu close to Bangalore. I recorded the quotes of the top scientists which I planned to include in my report of course acknowledging the channels. One major channel whose chief screams and shouts, in his enthusiasm to give viewers about the history of global moon missions, especially the Apollo landings erronously said the first human lunar landing was in August 1969!. Shocked, I picked up my cell called him in his studio and told him that it was July 1969. He asked me: ``Are you sure about your facts?'' I then provided him various websites and requested him to find out who was right and wrong! In flat two minutes the correction was flashed!
Then a second after 8.31 p.m. when the channels declared ``India Lands On the Moon,'' I turned emotional, and honestly could not control my tears of joy for a brief moment! I shouted with excitement and immediately called my dad and mom in Pune and gave them the happy news. Hearing me scream with joy, my wife, Usha and my daughter, Rimanika, rushed to the TV and congratulated me !!!!!! Usha was teaching Rimu at the very moment when India landed on the moon because the latter had a test the next day. But, I knew that India had passed with flying colours the toughest test!
I am sure that there would have been a similar display of emotion among the scientists at Istrac and Byalalu who have slogged for the last few years 24X7 to make this mission a success and bring honour to India. What a great moment it was. We had done it, and I felt it was time to uncork the champagne bottle.
With considerable difficulty, I managed to access some of the scientists at Istrac and got their comments. My good friend, Guruprasad of Isro, connected me to some of them. I had already interviewed Dr Kalam earlier and published the report regarding the significance of MIP. Sitting in front of the TV at Mumbai I could sense the excitement and feeling of accomplishment among the scientists. India had landed on the moon, becoming the sixth nation to join the exclusive global lunar club--the other five being China, Japan, the European Space Agency, the former Soviet Union and the US.
My excitement drove me instantly to my computer and I began punching the report for The Times of India which was waiting for my copy. For me as a space journalist, it was the most challenging piece of reporting I have ever done!. How on earth does one write in a way which will be reader-friendly about the significance and excitment of India landing on the moon? Anyway I did it, and the report landed on the computer terminals in the news desk of TOI just before 11 p.m.---pretty late for a daily newspaper. But, I must say that the editorial team was extremely co-operative that historic night and waited patiently for my report. The team even went to the extent of holding the front page till 1 a.m. to carry the first pix sent from the moon. The edition of November 15,2008, splashed the article on Page 1 along with the pics from the moon.
Nov 14,2009: The first anniv of India landing on the moon and the detection of water and carbon diaxide by Chace. I asked my friends at Isro in Bangalore whether they will be celebrating it in any way. They said that nothing has been planned, Honestly, I was a bit surprised. But, we in Mumbai decided to celebrate in our own way, On that day I launched my book about the Chandrayaan-1 mission, ``Moonshot India,'' at the Nehru Planetarium. The launch button was pressed by my good friend Piyush Pandey, the director of the planetarium,
We also used the opportunity to launch the India chapter of the Moon Society. For this launch, the activation button was pressed by Pradeep Mohandas, the secretary of the India chapter of the society and, of course, also my good friend. Pradeep made a nice and brief speech on the occasion and introduced the society to the audience whose number unfortunately would not have exceeded a huge number of 10! The turn out was poor because of other Children's Day events in Mumbai and also the publicity for my book launch was inadequate. It was quite a contrast to the launch in Bangalore on October 22,2009.
Nov 14 2010: Third anniv of India landing on the moon, To mark the occasion I contacted my good friend Syed--the project manager of Chace--at Hyderabad this morning and interviewed him. Reproduced below is the interview.
BEYOND MOON AND MARS (BMM): GOOD MORNING SYED. GREETINGS ON THE OCCASION OF THE THIRD ANNIV OF INDIA LANDING ON THE MOON.
SYED: HI. MY WIFE AND I WISHED ME ON THIS DAY. THE CHACE INSTRUMENT WAS MY BABY. WHAT A MOMENT IT WAS.
``I HAVE BEEN BEEN GIVING TALKS AT VARIOUS INSTITUTIONS MAINLY IN HYDERABAD. ON FRIDAY I ADDRESSED A SCIENCE MEET IN WHICH NEARLY 120 CHILDREN PARTICIPATED FROM DIFFERENT SCHOOLS IN SOUTHERN INDIA.''
``MY TALK WAS ABOUT THE SUCCESS STORY OF THE CHANDRAYAAN-1 MISSION AND THE CHILDREN WERE ENTHUSIASTIC AND EXCITED AND ASKED SOME VERY GOOD QUESTIONS. THEY ARE THE BEST BRAINS IN THE COUNTRY. THE PRESENTATION WAS SCHEDULED FOR AN HOUR AND WAS SUPPOSED TO END AT 1 P.M. BUT IT WENT ON TILL 1.30 P.M. AND THE ORGANISERS HAD TO STOP IT. DESPITE THIS THE CHILDREN RUSHED TO THE DAIS AND TOOK MY AUTOGRAPH. I REALLY FELT LIKE A HERO. IT WAS A GREAT FEELING FOR ME. THEY CLICKED A NUMBER OF PHOTOGRAPHS.
``THE TEACHERS WHO CAME FOR THE PRESENTATION WERE HAPPY THAT I HAD MADE TEACHING SO PLEASURABLE,'' SYED SAID THAT HE HAD SPOKEN A FORTNIGHT AGO THE RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT DIVISION OF BHEL IN HYDERABAD. ``AT THE END OF MY TALK THEY SAID I AM PROUD TO BE AN INDIAN.''
Keep it up Syed. We are proud of you.
On Thursday, November 18, he is speaking at the Jawaharlal Nehru Technical University in Hyderabad.
For the third anniv of the moon landing and my birthday, thanks to my daughter, Rimanika, I got a t-shirt designed, two key chains and a water bottle all with the MIP on them.
This evening I will be wearing the MIP t-shirt.
My hope is that someday I should wear this t-shirt, meet Syed, shake hands with him and take his autograph.
I hope it happens soon.