Friday, December 31, 2010

A century today---From Gagarin to the space shuttle

      January 1, 2011. BMM wishes its readers a very happy and prosperous new year.

      Yes, the new year has arrived. For ``Beyond Moon and Mars (BMM),'' it is a special day, because it hits a century today. The space blog which has been attempting to reflect BMM's passion for space exploration was launched on the night of September 5,2010 accidently.

     To mark the century, BMM will  reflect on the irony of manned space flight programme this year. Why irony?  The reason is that on the one hand the 50th anniv celebrations of the world's first manned space flight by Yuri Gagarin will take off soon. Simultaneously, an important segment of the human space flight mission--the space shuttle--will be phased out. 2011 will, therefore, witness two major events relating to manned space flight---the golden jubilee of Gagarin's flight and the retirement of the shuttle. Indeed it is also the golden jubilee of the famous speech of John Kennedy on May 25,1961, which launched the manned mission to the moon.

      Gagarin's flight on April 12,1961,eventually led to other human space missions, including the landing on the moon and then flights of the space shuttle. None other than Neil Armstrong himself has paid a handsome tribute to Yuri Gagarin saying that it was because of his flight that he was standing on the moon.

      With just three months left for the 50th anniv of Gagarin's flight--April 12 2011-- major celebrations have been planned all over the world. Here in Mumbai, the Russian consulate is observing the golden jubilee of the historic 108-minute flight in phases starting from March. The question is who will be the chief guest? The chances of a cosmonaut coming to Mumbai and interacting with space enthus appears remote. As BMM had mentioned in an earlier blog, BMM hopes that the consulate will arrange to sell Gagarin's autobiography, ``The Road To Stars.'' A private enterprise should even think of making and marketing Gagarin goodies like t-shirts, ball pens, hats and perhaps even a dvd of his life.  Those obsessed with space like BMM would grab them!

      The flight took place during the Cold War between the US and the former Soviet Union. Shaken and humiliated by Gagarin's flight, the US was determined to catch up. So on May 25,1961, John F. Kennedy, made his famous speech which launched US"s manned mission to the moon. BMM is sure that Nasa and other American organisations will leave no stones unturned to mark the 50th anniv of this speech.  
      With regards to the space shuttle which had its maiden flight also on April 12, but 20 years later in 1981, its role has been understandbly a subject of intense debate. Within Nasa itself there are two schools of opinion whether it had served its purpose or not. Those at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, champions of robotic interplanetary missions, are convinced that the shuttle was a failure and served no useful purpose scientifically. But this has been challenged by those at Nasa HQ in Washington and particularly scientists and engineers at the Johnson Space Centre in Houston--the centre of the space agency's manned spaceflight programme.

     This year the curtains will fall on the space shuttle after the three vehicles --Discovery, Endeavour and Atlantis complete their missions. The launch dates have yet to be firmed up. There is an air of uncertainty because more cracks have recently been found on the Discovery's external tank.

      While the shuttle in a way can be considered a technological triumph, its scientific accomplishments  however seem unclear. Perhaps it would have been better if the designers of the shuttle had made it capable of flying beyond the low earth orbit and the International Space Station (ISS) atleast to the moon and back. Unfortunately, it was condemned to the LEO which extends upto 2000 kms.

       On the topic of the manned space flight, there is another important question---will the government of India approve India's human space flight programme or not? 

       So, as BMM crosses a century, it will certainly try to provide regular updates about global space programmes.

       Wish all of you starry days ahead.  


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