On Saturday afternoon, the scene repeated itself in the room of ``Beyond Moon and Mars (BMM).
It did what it did on April 15,2010.
BMM placed its brass model of the GSLV (Geo Synchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV), on the dressing table, sat next to it, switched on the TV and surfed various channels to watch the live telecast of the much awaited GSLV launch.
Around 3.30 p.m. secretary of India chapter of Moon Society, the ever helpful, Pradeep Mohandas, called to say that DD National was telecasting the life of the father of the Indian nuclear bomb, Raja Ramanna, in which the eminent scientist explained why India had to go nuclear. Was there a connection?
At 3.45 p.m. sharp, the telecast started when the countdown had reached Mark-22 minutes to lift off. This means there was 22 minutes left for the three-stage GSLV carrying the heaviest India-made communication satellite, the 2310 kg GSat-5P, This exciting mission had a three-fold significance:-
*For the first time an India-made rocket was carrying the heaviest satellite.
*For the first time the length of the rocket itself was lengthened from 49 metres to 51 metres.
*For the first time fuel mass of the Russia-made cryogenic engine was raised from 12.5 tonnes to 15.3 tonnes.
So it had many firsts to its credit and understandbly it triggered a lot of interest, thrill and curiousity.
As the countdown progressed, BMM kept looking at the brass model, touching it now and then and saying to itself that in a few moments its actual counterparts would take off.
Mark-18 minutes: mission director G.Ravindranath gives the `go' for launch to vehicle director, Jaychandra Nair. In the hi tech mission control room at Sriharikota, the scientists kept monitoring their computers observing data from the rocket and the satellite. At that point all systems were a `go' for launch.
Mark-five minutes: Weather is a `go.'
Mark-3 minutes: On board computers get into the flight mode.
-55 seconds, - 50 secs-45-35-30-25-20-15-10-9-8-7-6-5-4-the strap ons ignite-3-2-1-0. The rocket lifted off triggering as usual a huge round of applause from the scientists and engineers in the mission control room and several onlookers at Sriharikota.
Barely had the applause subsided and when the flight had touched the 53 second mark the rocked started began to behave erratically, veered off its designated trajectory and Isro chairman K.Radhakrishnan gave destruct command T plus 63 seconds. Should BMM keep this super model next to it in the next launch?!!!!!! Yes, it will!
There was a huge fireball and it seemed as though there was a nuclear explosion rather than a rocket flight. Therefore, starting the launch telecast on Saturday with a profile of Raja Ramanna seemed appropriate!!!! Doordarshan was unaware of this connection!
A GSLV mission for the second time in six months had flopped--the previous one on April 15,2010 when the rocket was powered with an indigenous cryogenic engine. At that time the rocket was at an altitude of eight kms and was 2.5 kms from Sriharikota. The debris fell into the sea and it was the third failure of the seven GSLV flights. It appears that the Bay of Bengal atleast off Sriharikota exists to receive the debris of the GSLVs.
Sometime after this Christmas Day space disaster---ironically the space programme was born in the beautiful St Mary's Magdelene's Church in Thumba 47 years ago---Radhakrishnan announced the preliminary cause of the setback could be attributed to a snapped chord resulting in a command from the equipment bay failing to reach the first stage of the rocket. Pradeep feels that it was too early to come to any firm conclusion.
BMM does not want to speculate on the technical cause of the mishap. But, on its possible impact space scientists like M.N.Vahia of the Tifr feel that it could perhaps delay the prestigious Rs 425-crore Indian moon mission, Chandrayaan-2 slated for lift off in 2013, the manned space flight in 2015 for which the formal okay has yet to come from the government and the launch of communication satellites by the GSLV. If there was a delay in launching the communication satellites Isro will have to depend upon foreign launchers like Arianespace or hire foreign satellite which it had done in an earlier case.
Nehru Planetarium director, Piyush Pandey, is of the view that the next launch of the GSLV should be tried with a dud satellite. He feels that it should be test flight of this somewhat unreliable rocket. His opinion is bound to find unanimous support among the scientists of Isro's Ahmedabad-based Space Application Centre whose communication payloads, instead of hitting the sky, have been drowning in the sea instead!
But, there is one school of thought within Isro which is confident that none of these projects would be delayed. They are now faced with a challenging task of proving that their optimism.despite the disaster was justified.
BMM, though by no means a technical expert, however has these suggestions.
* The government should appoint a committee headed by an outside expert to probe the cause of Saturday's failure.
* Its functioning should be transparent and should emulate the example of the US system in which a certain degree of public participation is allowed. After all the tax payer has the right to know what is happening.
* The full report of this committee, not an edited, diluted or abridged one should be available on Isro's website. Just not a press release,
In this connection BMM wants to know whether Chandrayaan report of the Prime Minister's committee will be made public?