Friday, October 14, 2011

Once again a very hearty congrats Isro

       U have done the nation proud again. Congrats Isro.
       On October 12, 2011, ``Beyond Moon and Mars (BMM)'' activated the computer and the TV to watch the launch of four satellites---Megha Tropiques, Jugnu, SRMSat and VesselSat-1 of Luxembourg.

       BMM had been informed that there would be live webcast of the launch. So it eagerly looked forward to it as it would provide a more clear coverage of the mission than the one on Doordarshan. Nothing really wrong with the Doordarshan coverage, except that the constant statements by the commentators and the videos tended to somewhat divert the viewer's attention from the drama and excitement which was taking place at the Satish Dhawan Space Centre, Sriharikota. It was for this reason that BMM was keen on watching the webcast rather than the doordarshan coverage.

       As we space buffs are miles away from the spaceport, we would like to be a part of the events atleast by listening to the countdown and other remarks made by those in the mission control room at Sriharikota. This is what happens when we watch a Nasa launch on Nasa TV.  But, to be honest the commentators of doordarshan unfortunately spoil the show!!!!!  Incidentally, it is time that Isro now thinks of starting a Isro TV.

      Unfortunately, because of some technical problems the webcast did not come on BMM's computer. Left with no choice, BMM had no choice, but to watch the launch on TV listening to the never ending remarks of the commentators!!!!!!!!!!

      The successful mission was historical in a number of ways and this aspect has been missed by many who have been associated with the flight. It was the first flight with a jointly designed Indo-French satellite, Megha-Tropiques; it was the first flight with an IIT-made satellite, Jugnu; it was the first flight in which two student satellites from two prestigious Indian educational institutions--IIT Kanpur and SRM University were launched together and it was a flight in which a Chennai-made satellite flew for the second time, the first one being Anusat of Anna University on April 20, 2009. . So, this mission opened a new chapter in Isro's 48-year-old history which has remained unnoticed.

      The webcast finally came on BMM's computer around 3.45, but there were several problems in playing  and downloading it. People have praised the quality of the webcast, and BMM hopes that Isro will have this arrangement for all its future missions.

      In the last 48 hours BMM has made several efforts to download the webcast, but not succeeded. Right now at the time of writing this blog BMM is in the process of downloading a 56-minute video from Youtube of the launch and it is keeping its fingers crossed. The other three pre launch Isro videos were downloaded easily.

      All in all a wonderful mission.

      Congrats again to Isro.






Monday, September 19, 2011

Journey To The moon--------- From Rs two lakhs to Rs 1470

       On Sunday, evening ``Beyond Moon and Mars (BMM),'' casually went to the Crosswords bookshop at Kemps Corner just to look around and see if there were any new new additions to space exploration and nuclear.

       There were none and BMM was not surprised!

       But, just as BMM was leaving, and when it did a final survey of the store, a particular book caught its attention which completely left it disoriented the whole night!!!

       Any idea which is that book. It was a huge coffee table publication called ``Moonfire,'' by none other than the legendary Norman Mailer, It is about the epic journey of Apollo 11 which was specially brought out to mark the 40th anniv of the first human landing on the moon.

       BMM grabbed the heavy book from the stand and flipped thru the pages. What pics and documents! It immediately left a deep and strong impact on BMM. What was the price? Rs 2100.

       The extremely amiable store manager told BMM that there was another version of the book he recently sold to an industrialist. Its price?  Rs two lakhs!!!!!  Why so expensive? The manager said along with the book where was a piece of the lunar rock too. What guarantee that it was a genuine rock!

        BMM recalls that when it was in the US it found pens being sold with a label claiming  that they were used by astronauts in space!  A terrific marketing gimmick indeed!

        Anyway coming back to the book, BMM came home from the bookshop[ very excited thinking only about this super publication  It made a loud announcement to its daughter, Rimanika and her friends. But, they took it very casually since they have been used to my never ending excitement about space exploration.

       Late at night, when BMM's wife, Usha, got back from a film, it told her about the book. She also heard it casually and gave me the `go,' to buy it. Wow!  That's great guys.

      On Monday at 11 a.m. BMM was almost the first visitor to the book shop It was hoping that the book had not been brought by any other space enthu like BMM. Who knows? .

     It carefully looked at the rack. Yes. It was there.

      BMM immediately

      A further surprised awaited BMM at the counter.

      From Rs 2100, the book was sold for Rs 1470.

      What a journey to the moon folks.

      BMM has started reading it.

      Sometimes there is luck.





Saturday, September 10, 2011

A historic journey to the centre of the moon---The Grail Mission. Personal Memories

        On Thursday, ``Beyond Moon and Mars (BMM)'' was watching the Grail launch coverage on Nasa TV from about 4 p.m. (IST),

         The excitement was steadily building up and the the moment was nearing.

         At T-37 minutes ie exactly 37 minutes prior to lift off all stations reported ready. Then came the announcement that Nasa's Grail A will reach the moon on New Years's Eve and Grail-B on January 1,2012. The `go' was repeated at 5.40 p.m. and seven minutes later came the announcement that there were no issues and the weather was green. In plain terms it means that the weather was `go' for launch.

         The launch readiness was repeated at regular intervals, but around 6 .05 p.m. it was stated that ``We are red on the upper level winds.''  The launch was resked to about 6.45 p.m.

          At 6.36 p.m. during the final readiness poll, all stations were a `go' for launch. ``The Nasa team is ready for launch,'' came the announcement.

          But four minutes later ie at 6.40 p.m. there was no change in the upper level winds and the mission was scrubbed. This happened again on Friday, and on Saturday the launch could not take place in the first attempt.

           BMM had to go out on Saturday evening and its friend, Pradeep, continuosly kept in touch regarding the launch position. Thank U Pradeep. At one point he said that the launch was just 20 minutes away. BMM was terribly disappointed that it would be missing the coverage on Nasa TV. But, it could not do anything about it, what with the worsening traffic scenario in Mumbai.

           Then Pradeep called again and gave a very good news while BMM was shopping with his daughter, Rimanika, for our dog, Dora, at Kemps Corner. The lift off was again resked because the upper level winds were once again playing spoilt sport. He said that the next attempt was at 6.38 p.m. BMM hoped and prayed it would make it this time.

           At that moment BMM and Rimanika were in the dog shop and the Saturday evening traffic was pretty bad at Kemps Corner. At 6.20 p.m. the purchases for our Dora were over and BMM called for the vehicle. Eighteen minutes left for the lunar mission. BMM kept its fingers crossed and hoped that the car would come soon. It took quite some time to reach the shop.  Rimanika and BMM quickly dumped the packages into the vehicle, jumped into the car and requested the driver to rush home because there was an important mission ahead!!!! Obviously he could not understand what BMM meant.

          BMM did not want to miss an important flight like the Grail mission. 

           Just 10 minutes left for the lift off! The driver took an u turn and drove home, Pedder Road was fortunately empty which is something unusual on a Saturday evening. Down Sophia College lane and there was heavy traffic on Breach Candy.  My God!

           We reached home at 6.35 p.m., ran into BMM's room and at once activated the computer and accessed Nasa TV. All the workers who are doing carpentry work at our flat, stopped banging and hammering left their instruments including the supervisor, Mohan and our driver, Ravi, came to BMM's room to witness the take off.. Yes, we could see the rocket ready to lift off.  BMM had finally made it!  Thank God.

            ``Range is a go for launch,'' the flight commentator Steve Agid announced.

            ``T-1 minutes. 20 secs-15-13-11-10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1-0. We have lift off,'' declared Agid.

            ``We have a very good flight. The first and second stages jettisoned on target,'' came the announcement.

            The Grail ---Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL)--was at last on its way to the moon. The much-awaited 496.2 million dollar lunar journey had started. The rocket, the 124-feet tall United Launch Alliance's  Delta 2, and the lift off was from launch pad 17B at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

             As against the normal four days to reach the moon, Grail will enter a three-and-a-half month trans-lunar cruise phase which will be a low energy trajectory.

             The crucial lunar orbit insertion will be on December 28,2011, the science phase will begin on March 8, 2012 and the mission will be decommissioned on May 29,2012. 

             SIGNIFICANCE OF THE MISSION.: What is its role. According to Nasa, Grail will unlock the mysteries of the moon hidden below its surface. This is why it known as the journey to the centre of the moon--the first of its kind. It will do so by creating the most accurate gravitational map of the moon to date, improving our knowledge of near-side gravity by 100 times and of the far side by 1000 times,''  it said.

             The high resolution map of the moon's gravitational field especially when combined with a compatible topographical field map, will enable scientists to deduce the moon's interior structure and composition and to gain knowledge into its thermal evolution--that is te history of the moon's heating and cooling, which opens the door to understanding its origin and development. ``Accurate knowledge of the moon's gravity will also be an invaluable navigational aid for future lunar spacecraft, according to Nasa.

             Finally, Grail will also help us to understand the broader evolutionary histories of the other rocky planets in the inner solar system--Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars. 

              The most important aspect of the programme is the MoonKam project about which BMM had written before. This will allow school children in the US and in some other parts of the world to participate in the mission by requesting for photographs of any part of the moon of their choice which they can use for their school project work. A good idea which BMM feels that other space faring nations should also emulate--including students in a space mission which will inspire them to study science,technology, engineering and mathematics. This will mould them into future space leaders.  

              All in all a very important and historical mission. God Speed and Good Wishes.            



Sunday, September 4, 2011

One year ago................September 5,2010.

        This blog, ``Beyond Moon and Mars,'' completes one year today---day which also celebrates Teachers' Day---September 5

        It was a Sunday evening and by sheer chance I logged on to this site when I was accessing data about the Apollo missions to the moon. I then named my new blog  ``Beyond Moon and Mars (BMM),'' reflecting my passion for space exploration. Why ``Beyond Moon and Mars?''  The reason is one now always thinks of flying beyond the moon!

        In this last one year BMM has covered almost every aspect this hi tech sector and initially BMM used to write daily, but lately the frequency has reduced because of other official committments. Whenever, there is an important launch, BMM now makes it a point to write a personal blog.

        This year there were two important space events---the 50th anniv of Yuri Gagarin's flight and the conclusion of Nasa's space shuttle era. BMM covered them in detail and a friend in Kerala responded by e mailing BMM stamps about Yuri Gagarin!

        All in all it has been pretty exciting writing the blog and BMM will continue do so.

        As launch commentators say before a lift off: ``God Speed and Good Wishes.''




Sunday, August 28, 2011

ISS-----where is it headed?

      It is a real piece of irony.

      In this 50th year of the first manned space flight, comes the news that the 100 billion dollar International Space Station (ISS) could be left unmanned from November 2011 if Russia is unable to solve the problem related to the Soyuz rocket.

      Could you think of a more powerful symbol of the human space flight programme than the ISS? No.By chance if the Russians are not ready with their rocket which would result in the abandonement of the space station even temporarily, a lot of scientific research would suffer.

      The problem has come up in the wake of  the third stage of the Soyuz-U rocket with an automated resupply ship bound for the space station developing a snag five-and-a-half minutes into the flight and crashed. Speculation is rife that this was a result of low pressure on the fuel side.

       This has happened against the background of Nasa's space shuttle era coming to an end leaving a major gap in the transportation to the ISS. Following the final flight of the shuttle, the US was completely dependent on the Russians to fly crew members and cargo to the ISS. Now, with uncertainities relating to Russian rockets, it seems that the future of the space station itself hangs in balance. Again, this has happenend in the 50th year of the first human space flight by Yuri Gagarin. Who can deny that the creation of the ISS was after all one of the significant outcomes of Gagarin's flight. 

        This is the fourth time this year that a Russian space programme has suffered a setback raising several questions about its quality and safety.  Roscosmos has to carry out a detailed analysis about the cause of these mishaps and not do a hurried investigation merely to restore its flights. The next mission to the space station should go without a hitch and restore the confidence of other space agencies in Roscosmos.

         One thing needs to be said, however. It was well known that Nasa was wrapping up its space shuttle programme this year. This had been publicised for quite some time ago.  Keeping this in view, maybe the US could have got ready private flights to the ISS like the Dragon atleast to carry cargo. Indications are that Dragon will make its maiden docking to the ISS in November 2011---the very month Nasa plans to ``de-man,'' the space station if Russia is unable to provide a rocket!

         Also, the European Space Agency (ESA) and Jaxa---the Japanese space agency--perhaps could have planned man rated space crafts to the ISS to fill the gap caused by the exit of the space shuttle. International space agencies connected with the ISS should have chalked out plans more thoroughly regarding the post shuttle era. Apparently, this is not the case.

         With the future of the ISS at stake, China has announced that the first phase of its space station known as Tiangong-1 will lift off next month. This will be followed by the docking of Shenzhou 8,9 and 10 to Tiangong-1 in the next few months. China hopes to completes its space station by 2020---the very year the mission life of the ISS is expected to end.

          In this 50th year of the first manned space flight, on one hand we have news about the crisis facing the ISS and on the other China launching the first part of its space station.

          Two sides of the coin.


Monday, August 22, 2011

The man who is heading for the moon

        It was really like going the moon.

        On Saturday, ``Beyond Moon and Mars (BMM)'' interviewed a person who is about to embark on a grand mission. Guess who?

        He is UP-born 52-year-old Naveen Jain, co-founder of a San Fransisco-based organisation known as Moon Express, which is participating in the prestigious Google Lunar X Prize competition slated for lift off either in 2013 or 2014. The competition envisages the participating teams to land a rover on the moon which should move atleast 500 metres and transmit data to earth. The team which makes it first will get an award money of 30 million dollars. In all there are 24 teams from a dozen countries.

        Unlike in some other cases, it was so easy contacting Naveen about whom BMM had read so much, Mikey Kelly, who is a part of the Moon Express team helped with the arrangements and BMM is extremely grateful.

        The interview was for a space website Indian Space Station (ISS).

        The interaction with Naveen began at sharp 8.30 a.m. (IST) on Saturday August 2011 and went on for about 45 minutes. It was very informal and BMM found Naveen extremely passionate about his challenging lunar mission. He is literally slogging 24X7 to ensure that his team shoots first to the moon and BMM wishes him God Speed and luck.

         Moon Express' lander weighing a mere 100 kgs will operate on micro propulsion giving it the capability to hover above the lunar surface collecting and transmitting data. It will thus be something pretty unique--in a first of its kind it will be a lander-cum-rover.

         Naveen explained that the lander will be equipped with a telescope which can be controlled from the earth. The lander underwent a full flight test on Friday at Nasa's Ames Research Centre and it was very successful, he said.

         What made the interaction very significant was Naveen's saying that Moon Express has not entirely ruled out the possibility of launching the mission from India. ``We will be delighted to use an Indian rocket and if the plan materialises ours will be the first private company in the world to use an Indian rocket,'' he said.

          ``The Indian space programme is on the right track. India has the smartest people on earth. We have the best leaders in the space industry. I think India has the capability to lead a mission to the moon and beyond,'' he said.

          He said that apart from India, Moon Express was also exploring other options. These include Orbital Sciences Taurus 11, Elon Musk's Space x Technologies Falcon 9 rocket and launch vehicles from China and Russia.

          According to him the world is short of energy. ``Why not bring down the helium-3 from the moon to earth to improve the quality of life on earth. It is not radioactive? We can also bring down platinum from the moon. Why not think of the moon as the earth's eighth continent? he asked.``The question is how can we use space to make the life of people better on earth?''  He is absolutely correct.

         ``We are going to have multiple missions and one of them could be a sample return one. It is possible that someday a big asteroid will slam against the earth and destroy it. The moon, therefore, should be made habitable and nothing will destroyed on the moon because it has no atmosphere,'' he said.

          The man who is heading for the moon says that the mission is sure to inspire the younger generation.``In the last 40 to 50 years post Apollo nothing big has happened. If the younger generation realises that a mission to moon has moved away from government agencies into the private domain, it is sure to prove inspiring to them,'' he said.

          Once again BMM wishes God Speed and Good Luck to Moon Express. 


Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Wake up India !!!!!!

         Wake up India!

         From nuclear to space. 

         Here comes the news that China will launch a Pakistani communication satellite designated as Paksat-IR soon.

         According to media reports today--August 11 2011--the satellite will also have a strategic role. In plain terms it means that it will have military applications too.

         China has always backed Pakistan's nuclear and space programmes. But, the planned launch of Paksat-IR is significant and marks a giant leap in Sino-Pak space ties. The colloboration is perhaps aimed at challenging India's space programme, and more importantly as a growing global space power.

         Do not be surprised if the next step is China helping Pakistan to reach the moon mainly to compete with India. For the next Indian moon mission, Chandrayaan-2, tentatively slated for launch in 2013, India is teaming up with Russia. Both Pakistan and China are aware of this. Therefore, keeping this in view where is the guarantee that one of the future journeys to the moon could perhaps see China and Pakistan joining hands?  The race to the moon is now focussed on Asia.

         Media reports indicate that China will soon launch the first part of its space station, Tiangong-1 which is expected to carry three Taikonauts.  Do not be surprised that in future one of them is a Pakistani scientist or pilot.

         And here in India we are waiting for the government to give the okay for the human space flight programme.

         Wake up India!


Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Wings In Orbit----A new book about the space shuttle

        As the 30-year-old space shuttle era to a close, Nasa brought out a nearly 555-page book called ``Wings In Orbit,'' which traces the scientific and engineering legacies of the controversial space vehicle.

        Though the book is not yet available in India, ``Beyond Moon and Mars' (BMM)'' close friend, Mr Amin, who runs a bookstore at D.N.Road, Sterling Book Depot, managed to procure a copy for BMM. Thank you my good friend Mr Amin.

        It is a very expensive book--paperback and almost coffee table size--but certainly for spacebuffs like BMM it is certainly worth the investment because it throws a lot of light about the design and development of the only vehicle of its kind--partly an aircraft and partly a spacecraft.---it takes off like a rocket and returns like an airline. The Nasa team must be congratulated on achieving this unique combination which proved quite a challenge.

       The forward has been written by none other than John Young and Robert Crippen, the two astronauts who were the first to fly the shuttle on April 12,1981 and return two days later.

       In analysing the book, BMM can call it as an excellent PR exercise for the shuttle. Page after page it provides numerous technical details of the vehicle which honestly for a lay reader becomes somewhat tough to grasp and understand. It would have been good if the editors had presented the facts in a more reader-friendly way: after all the book is meant for the lay person and not only for scientists and engineers.

      Their attempt was to demonstrate through this book what a marvel the space shuttle was. The question is did they succeed?

     Anyone with the remotest links with the space sector, will know that though the shuttle was a technological marvel,  it faced a lot of operational problems and consequently a financial disaster. Except for former Nasa adminstrator, Michael Griffin, hardly anyone has brought out this important aspect of the shuttle. If this had been incorporated, the book would have been more balanced, rather than a Nasa PR exercise!

       The only sections which are reader-friendly are those which discuss in detail the impact of the space shuttle project on the American educational programme. These undoubtedly make a very interesting reading and BMM suggests that nations like India having programmes like Chandrayaan should use them to promote an interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) among Indian students. 

       In the portions relating to the different achievements of the shuttle like the deployment of various satellites and telescopes, the paras read like press releases. The book should have focussed a lot on the personal experiences of those who were involved in the programme.Yes, astronauts have given personal accounts , but this has been done briefly.

       All in all as BMM has stated earlier, the book is definately worth the investment. But as BMM has also mentioned it could have done in a more interesting way.


Friday, August 5, 2011

Another 50th anniv today............................

          Unknown to many today--August 6,2011---marks the 50th anniv of another important mission related to human space flight.

          Any idea what this could be?

          It is the 50th anniv of the second Russian to fly into space--Gherman Titov.

          Titov's story is somewhat like Buzz Aldrin's. Both were ``second'' in their accomplishments and both did not hesitate to hide their disappointment that they were not the first. Aldrin was open about his feelings, while Titov hung his head as the official decision was announced. It was decided that Yuri Gagarin would be the first man to fly.

           In a TV interview to Russian Channel One in 2010, Titov's wife, Tamara Titova, said: ``Of course he suffered that it was not him, Still he was ready to carry out the mission.''  ``There was just one seat in the spaceship, so we (Gagarin and he) could not go to together, Titov told his interviewers.

           Titov was launched on August 6,1961, at Baikonour, and his flight lasted 25 hours and three minutes. His call sign was Eagle. Do you know that when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin touched down on the surface of the moon, he message was the ``Eagle Has Landed.''  Any possible links between Titov's call sign and the Armstrong's message!!!!!!!!!!!!!? 

           Though Titov was the second Russian to fly in space and the third globally--Gagarin (April 12,1961), Alan Shepherd (May 5,1961) and Titov (August 6, 1961), he notched up a number of firsts to his credit. To cite a few examples, Titov was the youngest man to fly in space--he was 26--, first person to photograph earth from space, first to sleep in space and the first to suffer space sickness which described as ghastly.

           He dedicated his flight to the 22nd Congress of Soviet Communist Party .

           Russia is observing the 50th anniv of Titov's flight by opening a memorial museum in Titov's village, Polkovnikovo, in the Altai region of Southern Siberia.

           ``Beyond Moon and Mars (BMM)'' will attempt to procure books by Titov.           

            BMM hopes it succeeds as it was with Gagarin's autobiography--``Road To The Stars.''


God Speed Juno

         The mission is to Jupiter.

         ``Beyond Moon and Mars (BMM)'' spent the last two hours watching the launch of Nasa's Juno mission to Jupiter on Nasa TV.

          According to Nasa, Juno will look deep beneath the planet's swirling curtain of clouds to find out what lies beneath. The answer might confirm theories about how the solar system was formed/.

          The four-tonne Juno spacecraft is solar powered and will reach Jupiter in 2016. The rocket which carried Juno is United Launch Alliance's Atlas V with five solid-fuelled boosters. The spacecraft carries seven payloads. The lift off was from Cape Canaveral.

          A very interesting this about this mission is that carries three 1.5 inch size mini statues of Galileo Galiilei, the Roman God Jupiter and his wife, Juno. Nasa says that this inclusion is a part of a joint outreach and educational programme developed as a part of the partnership between Nasa and the Lego group to inspire children to explore science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

         In addition the spacecraft also carries a plaque dedicated to Galileo.

          The lift off of the mighty Atlas rocket from Cape Canaveral got delayed by nearly an hour because of some technical anomolies, but fortunately they got resolved.

           Range was initially a `no go,'' because of some boats which strayed into the area, but it also gave the `go.'

          At T-4 minutes all stations switched to Channel 1 which was the launch director's channel. There was an announcement which said that the switches were in a proceed position. There was an in-built hold at this point.

          9.25 p.m. (IST) ``T-4 minutes and holding.  This is Atlas launch control,'' came the announcement..

          9.30 p.m. The launch time is extended to sort out technical issues.

          9.43 p.m. Some stations give the `go' for launch.

          The issues get resolved and rocket is authorised for launch.

          9.45 p.m.  The spacecraft goes on internal power.  Permission is given for launch.
          9.52 p.m.  The launch sequence is started and launch is enabled.


          9.54 p.m. ``We have lift off of Atlas V with Juno spacecraft,'' the announcement said.

          God Speed Juno,

          We will follow you on the Nasa website and Nasa TV..  



Thursday, July 28, 2011

An unique mission to the moon................

         Get ready. This is a different type of a mission to the moon. The countdown has started. Forty two days left.

         The lift off will be on September 8,2011 from Nasa's Space Launch Complex 17B and the rocket will be the powerful Delta-2.

        The primary role of this unique mission is to map the lunar gravity and use that data to increase our understanding of the moon's interior and its thermal history.

         Why is it an unique mission?  For two reasons folks.

          In what is the first of its kind, two 200 kg spacecraft--designated as Grail A and Grail B--will be launched simultaneously and will fly in the same orbit around the moon. Grail A is expected to follow Grail B.  Grail stands for Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory.  This is the first time in the history of moon exploration that two spacecraft are being launched together.

          According to Nasa: ``Getting the two spacecraft where they need to be, when need to be, requires extremely challenging set of manouvres never before carried out in solar system exploration.''

          Each lunar spacecraft has two payloads---the lunar gravity ranging system and MoonKam, an acronym for Moon Knowledge Acquired By Middle School Students.

          Another first is the MoonKam, something pretty innovative which is sure to excite students about space exploration and the moon in particular. MoonKam will allow middle level students in the US to send in requests to Nasa for cameras on board both the spacecraft to take photos of specific areas of the lunar surface.

          The images will be posted on the internet and students can use them for their studies. The person behind the MoonKam project is none other than America's first woman in space, Sally Ride.

          After launch on September 8, 2011, the spacecrafts will enter the moon's orbit in January 2012. The science phase of the mission will be activated between March and May 2012. This is the time when MoonKam will become operational.

          The idea of having MoonKam is an excellent idea and ``Beyond Moon and Mars (BMM)'' feels that Isro too should think of doing something similar during India's second mission to the moon, Chandrayaan-2, tentatively slated for lift off in 2013.

           God speed Grail

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Gagarin goes to London and Manchester---a good book

           During the last few months much has been written about the 50th anniversary of the first flight by Yuri Gagarin on April 12,1961.

           Most of them make an interesting reading and ``Beyond Moon and Mars (BMM)''  has preserved some of the articles.

           But, BMM has hardly come across a book which is exclusively devoted to Gagarin's visit to a particular country.  But, there a notable exception, and it is recently-released. Called ``Yuri Gagarin in London and Manchester. A Smile That Changed the World,'' it is written by Gurbir Singh, an IT official. based in the UK. Thank you Gurbir for autographing and sending it to BMM..

           This well researched and fascinating book has been written against the background of the Cold War between the East and West. BMM therefore would describe the book as a sort of a political history too which focusses how the Soviet's triumphed over the West in the propaganda war using the visit of Gagarin to the UK.

           The book describes how the UK did not extend a formal invitation to Gagarin as it would indicate that that the country was acknowledging a Soviet victory over the West in the Cold War scenario. It would also mean that the UK was not accepting the success of the first manned space flight in US by Alan Shepherd on May 5,1961.

           The book has published a lot of confidential documents of the British foreign affairs office which clearly establishes the dilemma the government was faced with in the wake of the world's first spaceman's visit. Sure, it makes a terrific reading and be assured BMM will definately read the book again.

           Invited by the Soviet trade fair authorities and others, Gagarin landed in London accompanied by Nicolai Kamanin, who headed the cosmonaut training programme on July 11, 1961 to a tumultous welcome. Everywhere he was mobbed by admirers and of course there were quite a few interactions with the media which always did not result in intelligent questions .After all who would not like to shake hands with Gagarin! Old and the young lined the streets to catch a glimpse of Gagarin, and hats off to Gurbir for interviewing many of them and providing the reader with their personal recollections.

           It is clear from the book that Gagarin's thanks to his upbringing was a workers' man and felt at home with this class. This is amply evident in the chapters relating to his Manchester visit which the author has brought out so powerfully. Back in London, he was invited by the British PM and the Queen. That Gagarin was a ``working class'' man is once again evident when he was puzzled with so many forks while having lunch wth the Queen!

           Though the first man to risk his life and travel to space, he did not wear his super achievement on his sleeve. Wherever he went he endeared himself to everyone with his warm attitude and smile for which he has become famous. In fact it would be right to say that his smile has become as well known as his space flight! Yes, this is true. Infact how many are aware that this is one of the reasons why Korolev finally chose Gagarin for the world's first manned space mission even though Gherman Titov--the back up-- scored higher in the tests?

            It is apparent that the author has not taken too kindly to Gagarin's autobiography, ``Road To The Stars.'' BMM with considerable difficulty procured a copy of this book which is autographed by Viktor Savinykh, a Russian, the hundredth man to fly to space. Savinykh's visit to Mumbai in June 2011 was in fact in connection with the 50th anniversary celebrations of Gagarin's flight. 

            A very good account of Gagarin's visit to the UK , but one thing has to be said at the end----the author need not have given a detailed account about the history of Manchester, its aviation background, the Cold War and a few other items as well. This tends to divert the attention of the reader.

            Once again congrats Gurbir for such a wonderful and well produced book with so many exclusive pictures. Why is it not available in India? 

             In this connection, BMM recalls that it in October 1961 BMM was taken by its mom to the Mahalakshmi temple junction not far from its house in Breach Candy to wave to Gagarin as his motorcade passed by. Gurbir's book has inspired BMM to wirte a similar one about Gagarin's visit to India in 1961!  But, now it is too late. Is'ni it?

            Surprisingly, Indian bookstores did not think it necessary to stock books about Gagarin during the 50th anniversary celebrations.

            This is unfortunate.


Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Old memories revived

       At about 8 a.m. on Monday when the two-stage 20-storeyed tall Zenit 3F rocket lifted with an awesome roar from the Baikonour cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, not many perhaps were aware that it had an Indian connection, hitherto unknown.

       What was the link? Nothing big, but perhaps something quite interesting. The 8000-pound Spektri-R satellite, a 10-metre Russian space telescope, which will operate from an altitude of 210,000 miles from the earth, was equipped with an Indian component. The primary mission of the satellite will be to peer inside black holes, obtain views of collapsed stars and improve the measurement of the influence of dark energy on the cosmos.

       The other nations which have contributed to the programme include the US, China, Australia, Japan, Germany, Spain, Italy, Finland, Hungary, The Netherlands and the European Space Agency.

        Speaking to ``Beyond Moon and Mars (BMM),'' dean of Giant Metre Radio Telescope (GMRT), Yeshwant Gupta, said that Indian contribution was a receiver system which was designed and developed by a team of engineers of the Pune-based National Centre of Radio Astrophysics (NCRA), which is a part of Tifr.  The GMRT falls under the purview of NCRA.

        Gupta said that the story of the receiver dates back to 15 years! After it was designed by NCRA engineers, it was built and space qualified at Isro's Ahmedabad-based Space Application Centre and then dispatched to Russia to be integrated with the satellite. Remember, this was 15 years ago!

        However, for reasons mainly financial the mission got postponed and there was no indication initially as to when it would be launched. As a result, the instrument got mothballed and started gathering dust at Russia's Astro Space Centre of the P.N.Lebedev Physical Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Even the Indian team almost forgot the mission.

       Spektr-R project was overall designed by the Astro Space Centre, the S.A.Lavochkin Federal Research and Production Association and Roscosmos, the Russian Federal Space Agency.  

       In the recent past, Russia decided to revive the programme and initiated plans to launch the massive space telescope. ``When our instrument was retested at the Astro Space Centre it functioned flawlessly much to our delight,'' remarked Gupta. The role of the instrument will be to pick up radio waves from different objects.

       The Spektr-R satellite also called RadioAstron is part of an international network of observatories. When linked with ground-based telescopes across the globe, Spektr-R will facilitate unprecedented views into black holes that form the centre of galaxies.

       The combination of ground and space-based telescope is known as ``interferometry,'' which can pick up faint radio signals. One of the primary targets of the RadioAstron group in Russia is to study a nearby galaxy called M817.

        According to Astro Space Centre, some of the ground-based facilities which are expected to participate include the 1000-foot diameter Arecibo observatory in Puerto Rico, the Green Bank telescope in West Virginia and a 330-foot wide dish in Effelsburg, Germany.

        Gupta said that India has been invited to participate in the international astronomial experiments and the proposal was under consideration. 

        All the very best.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Congrats Isro

        Isro you have a way of keeping India's flag flying really high. Keep it up. Once again you have done this nation proud. A great feeling indeed.

       On Friday evening ``Beyond Moon and Mars (BMM)'' sat glued to the TV watching the highly-proven four-stage 44.4 tall Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) ferry the 1410 kg communication satellite, Gsat-12 to its orbit.

       The execution of this extremely complex mission was done with considerable precision and everything went off smoothly as planned to the relief of the Isro team, especially its chairman, K.Radhakrishnan. Each time there was an announcement that the performance was normal, it triggered a loud applause among the scientists and engineers in the hi-tech mission control room at the Satish Dhawan Space Centre, Sriharikota.

        The primary role of this flight is to enhance communications and increase the number of transponders. GSat-12 will have a societal role relating mainly to the areas like tele medicine, tele education and also in village resource centres.

        This super successful mission has two important aspects. First, for the first time an indigenous advanced mission computer, Vikram,  is being used for navigating, guiding and controlling the rocket. Second, it is for the first time that the satellite was placed in what is known as a sub geo synchronous transfer orbit with the apogee being at 21,000 kms. ``This became necessary because of the powerful capability of the rocket,'' said an Isro official.

        In the next five days, through five critical manouvres the altitude of the satellite will be raised from 21,000 kms to its permanent home at 36,000 kms in the geo synchronous orbit.  ``This is an extremely complex exercise and we are keeping our fingers crossed,'' said an Isro official. The liquid apogee motor of the satellite will be used to raise both the apogee and perigee of the satellite to place it in a circular orbit at an altitude of 36,000 kms.

           An interesting feature of this programme is the powerful role of not only computer power, but also girl power. Three key figures involved with the GSat-12 project are woman. They are T.K.Anuradha, K.S.Anuradha and Pramodha Hegde. Project director, T.K.Anuradha, has been quoted as saying that designing and developing the satellite was a challenge because the team had to pack the power and reaction control systems in a small bus in the satellie. She compared it to constructing a big bungalow in a small plot of land.

           Speaking to the Isro scientists post launch from the mission control room, T.K.Anuradha said that she was happy that the satellite was operating normally.

          As the rocket flew higher and higher, and the various stages performed satisfactorily, GSat-12 separated 1190 seconds after lift off setting off a loud applause among the scientists in the mission control room. There was an exchange of congratulatory handshakes and the mood in the control room which was so far tense gave way to one of joy, relief and excitement.

          Addressing the Isro team, Radhakrishnan declared that the GSat-12 had been injected precisely to its orbit. 

          Director of Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre, P.S.Veeraraghavan, said that the PSLV had attained maturity. ``The success of the mission will help to improve PSLV's brand all over the world,'' he said.

          Immediately after the mission was over, BMM filed two reports to two different agencies and downloaded the launch video from a TV channel.

          Like the mission itself, the recording has come out very well.       

          Once again let BMM declared: ``Isro you have done us proud.''



Monday, July 11, 2011

A space race is on----this time between the US and China

       Even as Nasa officials were repeatedly proclaiming publicly post Atlantis launch that US leadership in space globally will remain unchallenged, internally, however, they were expressing apprehensions about its future, mainly because of the budget cuts by the Obama adminstration. None other Neil Armstrong himself has gone on record as saying that the US is losing its edge in the field of space exploration.

       As Nasa was confidently declaring publicly about its future goals, China took advantage of this situation and reiterated its ambitious future space plans recently. With the 16-member International Space Station (ISS) set to wind up in 2020--the very year China plans to send its first man to the moon--China this year will launch a rocket carrying a boxcar sized module which will be the first segment of a Chinese space station. This new space station is expected to become operational in 2020. So 2020 promises to be an exciting year in the field of space techology.  It will mart the end of one space station and the start of another one.

      The space station, unlike the existing one which can accommodate seven crew members,  will have place for three. China seems seems hell bent to beat the US in the space race.

      While the US keeps announcing its future missions,China plans to launch a lunar probe having a rover in 2013. And, seven years later around 2020 or so it has set itself a goal of putting a man on the moon.In this scenario unfolding in China the US is a worried nation.

        With a degree of uncertainty about the future of US space programmes, American space experts are understandbly a worried lot----they are apprehensive that their country will be overtaken by China in the human spaceflight programme.

      In fact Scott Pace, an associate Nasa adminstrator, during the George Bush adminstration, has been quoted as saying that a decline in space leadership will be seen as symbolic of a relative decline in US power and influence. ``Space leadership is highly symbolic of national capabilities and international influence,'' he was quoted as saying.

     That is not all. China has also not ruled out the possibility of launching a manned mission to Mars. Infact in the Mars500 programme---a simulated landing on Mars---which is taking place in a facility near Moscow, it is a Chinese candidate who is supposed to be performing most satisfactorily.  

      So, China is really heading towards the stars.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

From the pen of the very person who was chosen for a space shuttle mission

        On Friday at 9 p.m. (IST) Nasa's space shuttle, Atlantis, thundered off the launch pad on its final mission marking the end of the 30-year-old space shuttle era.

        Not many are aware that the space shuttle had Indian connections. Two scientists working with Isro, P.Radhakrishnan and N.C.Bhat were chosen by the Indian space agency and Nasa to fly in space shuttle ``Challenger,'' to deploy the Insat 1-C and 1-D communication satellites in September 1986. . But, the much awaited mission did not take off because of the ``Challenger'' disaster on January 28,1986.

        Not only this. An Indian cosmic ray experiment, ``Anuradha,'' flew in space shuttle ``Challenger,'' for a week beginning April  29,1985.

        Who will forget the flights of India-born astronauts, Kalpana Chawla and Sunita Williams, both of whom have been interviewed by ``Beyond Moon and Mars (BMM).''

         And the Chandra X-ray observatory named after the world renowed astrophysicist, Subrahmanyam Chandrasekhar, was launched by on December 23, 1999, by space shuttle, ``Columbia.''

         So, the shuttle has a lot of Indian connections.

         BMM recalls that during the very first space shuttle flight, (STS-1) ``Columbia,'' on April 12,1981, it with a cousin were hearing the commentary on a radio!  We did not have a TV. Now 30 years later, BMM was glued to Nasa TV for about 12 hours on July 8,2011, watching the live coverage of the ``Atlantis,'' launch.

         On the occasion of the last launch of the space shuttle, ``Atlantis,'' on Friday night, BMM has great pleasure in reproducing a beautiful article written by P.Radhakrishnan, called ``My Flirtation With Space.''


         ``After his flight in a Soviet vehicle in April 1984, during his visit to Trivandrum, I interviewed Rakesh Sharma on behalf of All India Radio. I didn't then have the foggiest idea that I would ever come any close to a space flight myself. It did, therefore, come as a big surprise when later that year ISRO announced its intention to send a Payload Specialist each in the Space Shuttle during the launches of the Indian communication satellites, INSAT-IC and ID. The Payload Specialist's role was to be that of an observer-cum-advisor for the INSAT satellites besides conducting independent experiments on remote sensing, lightning and biomedicine. There was an invitation for volunteers from within ISRO with science and engineering qualification, and health and fitness conforming to `NASA Class 111 Medical Standards for Payload Specialists.' After a series of progressively tougher tests and screening conducted by Institute of Aerospace Medicine of Indian Air Force, Bangalore, (IAM), the initial 400 volunteers were short listed to 7. Out of these, Mr N.C.Bhat of ISRO Satellite Centre, Bangalore,and I of Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre, Trivandrum were selected by a Board that also included as members Rakesh Sharma and Paul Weitz, a NASA astronaut. Bhat and I were to undergo further tests at Johnson Space Centre (JSC), Houstojn, Texas in June 1985. Group Captain Kuldip Rai was to be our flight surgeon.''

``During our stay in JSC, I met Col. Shriver who was to be the commander of our flight on the Challenger, designated as STS-61, and the Saudi Arabian Prince-Astronaut Sultan Abdul Azis who had just then returned from a flight. At that time in JSC there was also a group of Japanese scientists undergoing tests like us. I was excited by the rumour that there would be in our flight the well-known writen, Norman Mailer too. I remember vividly certain other individuals in JSC like Lynn Collins who was the Payload Specialists Co-ordinator. She could instantly put us at ease on our arrival there. There was the Chief Nurse Claudette, so very kind and considerate.''

`` Back in India, after we received confirmation of our acceptance by NASA, Bhat and I started our regular training at IAM, Bangalore that consisted of familiarisation with biomedical experiments, exercises and air experience. This lasted for 8 months. What remained was training at JSC in living and doing day-to-day chores in the Space Cabin which would be for about 4 months just prior to the flight slated for September 1986.''

`` In January 1986, for purposes of familiarisation, we went to Ford Aerospace Communication Corporation, Palo Alto where the satellite INSAT 1 C&D were being built. Then came the Black Day, January 28,1986. 73 seconds into the flight, the Challenger STS-51 L, blew into a ball of fire ending the precious lives of 7 wonderful human beings. One of them was Christa McAuliffe, a school teacher. We saw the tragic event on the TV. Later the same day, we heard a moving speech in the sonorous voice of President Ronald Reagan who said, ``We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them this morning, as they prepared for the journey and waved goodbye and `slipped the surly bonds of earth to `touch the face of God.''

``During our subsequent stay at JSC, though it was stated by NASA authorities that Space Shuttle flights would resume in 6 months. I had a strong presentiment that I had lost for ever my once-in-a-lifetime chance. After a protracted but warranted Presidential Enquiry lasting over 3 years, NASA decided to resume Shuttle flights, but discontinued its practice of launching commercial satellites.''

`` I was looking forward to a space flight for its thrill, excitement and adventure. Besides, I wished to have something to tell my grandchildren. As steeply as my hope of a space flight soared, it made a nosedive on January 28,1986. Now, here I am, a still-born astronaut.''

``In spite of personal frustration, the best pay-off from my brush with space flight was that it gave me a great deal of confidence, a clean bill o health (I was 42 then) and the opportunity to meet astronauts (``The Right Stuff'') such as Rakesh Sharma, Paul Weitz, Shriver, Don Williams, Bonnie Dunbar. I tasted space food and had an exposure to flight conditions like high-g and weightlessness, isolation and confinement. It was good while it lasted, as look at the past thrugh a bridge of 22 years, filling my mind with vivid recollections! If it were not for the Challenger disaster, our flights would have taken place; it would have marked the pinnacle o Indo-US cooperation in space.''

``President Reagen's words still ring in my ears. ``We will continue our quest in space. There will be more Shuttle flights and more Shuttle crews, and more volunteers, more civilians, more teachers in space. Nothing ends here; our hopes and journeys continue.'' This truly reflectes the spirit of human adventure and progress.''


Thursday, July 7, 2011

India's human spaceflight programme-----no direction

        The story has an ironical twist.

        Fifty years of the first manned spaceflight is being marked by two developments. First, if all goes well and weather is a `go'  at Nasa's Kennedy Space Centre, then a major programme relating to manned spaceflights will draw to a close on the night of July 8,2011 (IST): the launch of space shuttle Atlantis.

         Second, in the 50th anniv of the first human space mission, it is strange that India has not yet laid out a clear and precise road map of its human spaceflight programme four years after it was first announced by former Isro chairman, Madhavan Nair. Nair declared India's intention to launch a manned space flight on August 9, 2007.

         Both are matters of irony. In one case a programme is ending,  and in another case the programme has failed to take off even after four years.Both during the 50th anniv of the first manned mission by Yuri Gagarin.

      . And, the fact that India is groping in the dark in this particular area is amply evident in an interview Isro chairman, K.Radhakrishnan, recently gave to a news agency called entitled ``India mulls options on human space flight programme.''

        In stark contrast to China, which has laid out a clear road map of its manned mission programme, India is still in the process of debating the three possible options. Cannot believe that even after four years we have still not arrived at a firm decision. The three options are as mentioned by the Isro chief are:-

        * An taikonaut flying in a Soyuz spacecraft or some other system.
        * Make a crew model indigenously and use a foreign rocket.

        * India to use its own rocket and crew module and undertakes the flight completely indigenously.

        To ``Beyond Moon and Mars (BMM)'' it appears that the third option is the best. If it is accepted, the question then is will the mission ever take off since nothing is ready. The problem with the second option is that if anything goes wrong, it will trigger a game of buck passing with India and the foreign space agency blaming each other for the malfunction.

        Imagine after four years Radhakrishnan is asking how will the programme benefit the country! When Isro initiated the project, it should have assigned a team of scientists and engineers to study it in-depth, evaluate and assess as to whether it will really benefit the nation. `` All these models are possible. We are not closed on any of these options. But, one has to study as to how does it lead you to the future,'' he told the interviewer.

        In a way this reminds BMM of the arguments and counter arguments which went on in the US about the advantages and disadvantages of manned and unmanned space missions.

        Regarding the rocket which will be used for the manned mission, no decision has been taken. The debate is whether to use GSLV Mark 2 or the advanced version of this rocket, designated as GSLV Mark 3.What human spaceflight programme are we talking about? In the opinion of BMM, there is no real programme at all at this point. It is apparent that India has not worked with a fixed goal wth regards to this project. If the programme has to lift off, please emulate the example of China.

        India is clear about its PSLV (Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle) and satellite projects and has emerged as a world leader in these critical areas. Why not the same for its manned space flight programme too? It is perhaps for this reason that the government has not given the formal go ahead for this nearly Rs 13,000 crore project.

       Here is a suggestion---if the government and Isro are not serious--they do not appear to be serious atleast at this stage--about a human spaceflight programme, then why not simply reallocate the funds for additional missions to the moon and to Mars. Isro has been talking about an unmanned flight to the Red Planet. But, nothing has happened either.

      Wake up India and let is citizens explore the universe.






Sunday, July 3, 2011

The legacy of the space shuttle...thanks Shatner

       T-five days and counting. On Friday evening (IST) if everything is a `go' then the space shuttle ``Atlantis'' will lift off from the Kennedy Space Centre bringing down the curtain on the nearly 30-year-old history of this highly controversial space vehicle who design and development triggered a considerable amount of debate even among Nasa officials.

       As the era is coming to an end, a lot of material many through videos is being made available on the net. One of them is an hour and 20 film about the space shuttle narrated by William Shatner which ``Beyond Moon and Mars (BMM),'' saw on Sunday evening and downloaded it.

       It traces the history of the vehicle and provides some excellent shots of the hitherto unseen aspects of the spacecraft. BMM has read some uncomplimentary reviews about this film, but it does not agree with these views.

       In the opinion of BMM, the film in a way compliments a very expensive book about the shuttle called ``Wings In Orbit,'' which it is currently reading. Like in the book, the film has a lot of in depth interviews with those connected with the shuttle programme. For those having what may be called ``space fever,'' like BMM
both the film and the book are definately a must.

      A few weeks ago, BMM recalls that the film was shown only for 14 minutes and many thought that it was the actual length of the documentary. BMM was in fact a bit surprised that there was so much of publicity for a mere 14-minute film. But, two days ago Nasa TV announced the screening of the film which was for 80 minutes.

      It is worth seeing any number of times.

      BMM has requested its good friend Pradeep Mohandas----BMM is sure that Pradeep is finding its passion for space a bit nuisance---to transfer it into a dvd and it hopes it will be done.

      Watch the film space freaks! 


Friday, July 1, 2011

Flying in the shuttle commanded by Susmita

          None of us have flown in a space shuttle. The nearest ``Beyond Moon and Mars,''(BMM)  got to the shuttle was outside the Kennedy Space Centre in May 1995 when it and its wife, Usha, boarded a mock up and went around. It was really thrilling and exciting.

          Over the years, BMM has been regularly following various shuttle missions, brought books related to this fascinating vehicle and downloaded any number of videos. BMM never gets board of watching a video of a shuttle launch any number of times on a single day. Now it is waiting to download the video of the Atlantis launch on July 8  and needless to say the historic landing too.a few days later.

         BMM only wishes that it had an opportunity to see an actual shuttle and witness its grand lift off. On Wednesday, it pulled out a tiny brass model of the shuttle from the cupboard and placed it next to its computer. BMM has quite a few shuttle models which have been kept inside because its flat is being renovated.

        However, on Tuesday evening, BMM literally flew on a space shuttle. This was neither in a sim at the Johnson Space Centre nor in a mock up, but at the American Centre auditorium in New Marine Lines. The mission BMM thought would be scrubbed because of the heavy downpour that evening.

         The commander of the flight was a young enterprising Mumbai-based space entrepreneur, Susmita Mohanty, who has worked in Nasa on the Shuttle-Mir mission.

         Despite the thundershower, the auditorium was nearly full and Susmita took us on an exciting 90-minute trip in the shuttle. Weather was a `go' and the flight lifted off with a brief screening of the launch of Endeavour and then she went on to explain with a help of a ppt every aspect of the spaceplane, whose creation and role had been a subject of considerable controversy among US policy makers and even among Nasa scientists and engineers.

         With just a week left for the final shuttle mission--July 8--hats off to the American Centre for scheduling  such a programme. .BMM wishes that it organises similar space-related events more frequently.
         BMM has seen a number of pics and videos of the space shuttle, but honestly not watched anything in such minute detail. It seemed as though BMM was one of the crew members on board the shuttle.If BMM ever flew on the shuttle it wonders how it would have eaten or slept. Frankly, BMM's table manners are not too elegant--check with its daughter Rimanika--and eating on the shuttle would have been quite a task. It is for this reason that BMM gets a bit nervous if it has to eat in front of Rimu's friends from the JB Petit High School For Girls !!!!!!

         The ppt by Susmita kept the audience nailed to their seats. What a memorable flight it was. The mission  was followed by a q-and-a session and honestly while the qs of the youngsters were pretty well informed and intelligent, the same unfortunately cannot be said of those put by some of the older members of the audience.

          On reaching home that night BMM tried to download the ppt from livestream.

           Unfortunately, it could not be done!


Friday, June 24, 2011

From Surat to the Stars-----Congrats Siddharth.

      A joke about ``Beyond Moon and Mars (BMM) is that it was born with rocket fuel in its mouth!

      Ever since BMM from its infancy developed a passion for space exploration, it has had a dream---that of visiting Baikonour in Kazakhsthan and Star City near Moscow where cosmonauts are trained. BMM has visited Nasa's Kennedy Space Centre twice, the European spaceport of Kourou in French Guyana once and of course several times our very own Satish Dhawan Space Centre, Sriharikota to cover a rocket launch.

      But, BMM's dream of visiting Baikonour and Star City have so far remained unfulfilled. It hopes someday it will be able to go there and touch the launch pad from where Yuri Gagarin took off on April 12,1961 at Baikonour. BMM has laminated a small map of Baikonour which it has displayed in its room--a mini space centre--and looks at it every now and then!

     Now it is Baikonour to Surat. A big jump. One may wonder what is the connection? Why Surat?  BMM has visited Surat twice or thrice--a few hours drive from Mumbai en route to Ahmedabad. This quite town of Surat which rarely makes news shot into the international space arena recently.

     And how?  Not that the authorities are constructing a spaceport at Surat. It has rocketed into the stars thanks to a 19-year-old mechanical engineering student, Siddharth Kalra, a student of Sardar Vallabhai National Institute of Technology.

     How did it happen? As part of the 50th anniversary celebrations of the first human spaceflight by Yuri Gagarin, the Russian Federal Space Agency, Roscosmos, the Russian Centre for Science and Culture, Mumbai, UNESCO, and another organisation known as Rossotrudnichestvo, organised a world space olympiad which saw the participation of nearly 50,000 space-crazy youngsters from all over the world.

     The competition consisted of three rounds. The first two were on line and in the final test the candidates had to submit a project. Siddharth's disseration focussed on the development of astronautics and space exploration in the next 50 years.

     Of the several who took part, 20 were short listed for the final round which consisted of facing a panel of examiners about their project at the Russian Centre For Science and Culture at Paris. And who were the examiners? They were Russian and European astronauts and cosmonauts, including the celebrated Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman to fly in space on June 16,1963.

     Said Siddharth: ``At the end of my presentation Valentina told me that she saw in my eyes a future space explorer and space engineer. I hugged her. It was an honour to meet her,'' Siddharth told BMM.       

      The D-day was April 21. Siddharth will never forget this day. He was formally declared the world topper in the tough global space olympiad. What a moment for this talented and brilliant youngster!

       The award consisted of among things a visit to Moscow, Baikonour and Star City which would surely make any spacebuff like BMM envious!!!!

        As luck could have it, Siddharth arrived at Baikonour on the very day the Soyuz TMA-02M was being launched. It was June 7, 2011. He recalled: `` It was 2 a.m. at Baikonour and I was just a km away from the launch pad. I witnessed the terrific lift off the mighty and powerful rocket carrying three cosmonauts. I have never experienced a sound like that. It was monstrous. But, I also felt it was like sunrise, because the fiery plume of the rocket lit up the night sky. The vehicle was in sight for a few minutes. Then it gradually disappeared out of sight and its sound slowly began to fade away. What a sight and what a moment for me,'' he said.

        Apart from the rocket launch, he also visited a few other facilities at Baikonour including an international school, where all the subjects are related to space from Std V. He was also shown the house where Gagarin slept the night before his historic mission which took off on April 12,1961. The highlight of his visit was shaking hands with the world's first spacewalker, Alexei Leonov. Leonov executed his feat on March 18,1965. ``Leonov congratulated me and I took his autograph. I found him to be an extremely nice person,'' Siddharth said. 

         At Star City, not far from Moscow, he visited the cosmonauts' training facilities and of course the office of Gagarin.

         Siddharth's dream is to participate in India's space programme. He said: ``I hope I can witness a launch at Sriharikota.''  Next month there is a launch and BMM hopes that Isro will arrange for Siddharth to watch the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle lift off.

         Congrats Siddharth!  You have brought honour to your family, your college and above all India.Sure you are a  role model for many youngsters. Instead of worshipping film stars, they should emulate your example.

         You will definately make it to the stars.

         Keep it up. 

         Congrats again.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Rakesh Sharma's message on the 50th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin's space flight

       On Tuesday evening, ``Beyond Moon and Mars (BMM)'' received a precious and historical document while attending a wonderful Russian folk dance show at the Russian Centre For Science and Culture

       A centre official, my good friend, Rajeev, thoughtfully gave me two copies of the document. Of these, BMM plans to laminate one and prominently display it in its room once the renovation work is over which seems never-ending.

       It is a message from none other than India's first spaceman, Wing Commander (retd) Rakesh Sharma to the consul general of the Russian Federation in Mumbai, Alexi A.Novikov, to mark the 50th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin's space flight.

       Sharma's message says: ``Your Excellency. The world was wonder struck on this very day 50 years ago, when Yuri Gagarin returned back to Earth after a successful orbital space flight. I was a student attending school at that time and this event fired the imagination of my generation. Little did I know that 23 years later, I would be following him into space along with my Russian colleagues. In that sense, Yuri's words were prophetic for he had hoped as much when he spoke during his visit to India after his historic space flight.''

       ``We marvel at all that has been achieved by space in these 50 years. This is a time to reflect and salute Yuri Gagarin, the space scientists and technicians that made his flight possible. It is a tribute to the indomitable exploratory spirit of Man and the heroism displayed by Yuri, who braved this unknown frontier just because he believed in the capabilities of all those who had worked to make his flight possible,'' the message states.

       ``On that historic day, the 12th of April, 1961, Yuri Gagarin and his team showed the world that it was possible to launch a human into space and return him safely back to earth,'' the historic message concludes.

       It is signed: ``Rakesh Sharma Research Cosmonaut India Soyuz-T-11/Salyut-7/Soyuz-T-10. 03April to 11 April 1984.

       BMM first saw this message when it was displayed along with other pictures of Yuri Gagarin and space-related events during the Russian national day party at the Taj on Monday night. BMM immediately approached the ever helpful Rajeev and requested him for a photo copy of the message.

       Rajeev immediately agreed and on Tuesday evening provided two copies.

       Thank you Rajeev. 

Decline of US space power............................say three well known `writers.'

     On the eve of the 50th anniv of President Kennedy's historic speech declaring that America will launch a manned mission to the moon, three people wrote an article in USA Today regretting the decline of US space power and how it has drifted away from President Kennedy's space vision.

     Kennedy made the speech on May 25,1961 and the article was published on May 24.

     Three well known writers are Neil Armstrong, the first man to step on the surface of the moon, Jim Lovell, the commander of Apollo 13 and Eugene Cernan, the last man to step on lunar surface.

     Quoting the President's address, they say that half a century has passed since Kennedy challenged the American citizenry to do what most thought to be impossible. ``Our efforts enhanced international co-operation with Apollo-Soyuz, the space shuttle and the International Space Station.The compelling fascination of our space achievements among young people spurred their interest in education,'' they wrote.

     They were happy that the Constellation programme---a project to revive manned lunar landings and possibly even a human mission to Mars--was developing and enjoyed wide support. But poor funding made the Obama adminstation that it was not viable.

      The writers wonder whether the decision to cancel the Constellation programme was because of vested economic interests ``Obama's advisers, in searching for a new and different Nasa-strategy with which the president could be favourably identified, ignored Nasa's operationa mandate and strayed widely from President Kennedy's vision and the will of the American people,'' they regret.

       They further regret that the  2012 budget has reduced funding significantly below the authorised amount for both a big rocket and a multipurpose crew vehicle for carrying humans to the moon and beyond..It focusses on the development of rockets and spacecraft by commercial entrepreneurs. They doubt whether these entrepreneurs have the capacity to launch such a mission.

       ``The response to Kennedy's bold challenge half-century ago has led to America's unchallenged leadership in space. We take enormous pride in all that has been accomplished in the past 50 years. And we have the people, the skills and the wherewithal to continue to excel and reach challenging goals in space exploration,'' they have written.

       They say: ``But, today, America'a leadership in space is slipping. Nasa's human spaceflight programme is in substantial disarray with no clear-cut mission in the offing. We will have no rockets to carry humans to low earth orbit and beyond for an indeterminate number of years. Congress has mandated the development of rocket launchers and spacecraft to explore the near-solar system beyond earth orbit. But, Nasa has not yet announced a convincing strategy for their use. After a half-century of remarkable progress, a coherent plan for maintaining America's leadership in space exploration is no longer apparent,'' they have regretted in their article.



Thursday, June 9, 2011

Russian cosmonaut in Mumbai

        One place ``Beyond Moon and Mars (BMM)'' would love to while away his time is the domestic terminal at Santa Cruz, especially terminal 1B which is used by private operators.

         It is full of life and activity and the swanky fast food joints and the new 24X7 lounge bar just outside the arrival area are a delight.

         On Wednesday evening, BMM went to the airport not to kill time but to meet and interview a special person.

         He was travelling by a Jet Airways flight from Chennai which was delayed by nearly 30 minutes. It was to have landed at 7.25 p.m., but arrived at 8 p.m. BMM spent its time chatting with a new friend, an energetic intern from Sophia College, Vidya Subramaniam, who was assigned to photograph the visitor by the Times of India..

         The flight touched down just before 8 p.m. and Vidya and BMM positioned themselves just outside the arrival area. None of the passengers who came out of the arrival hall were aware that there was a special type of passenger inside.

         We waited and waited and still there was no sign of him.

          And finally he came. There he was. How did BMM recognise him? He was escorted by the Russian vice consul V.V. Dementiev a close friend of BMM, and an interpreter from the Russian consulate.

          Who was this special person?  He was the 100th man who flew into space, 71-year-old Victor P.Savinykh, who has logged 252 days, 17 hours,37 minutes and 50 seconds in space. In all he has flown three space missions starting from March-May 1981.

           His visit was a part of the 50th anniversary celebrations of the first manned space flight by Yuri Gagarin on April 12,1961. 

            Vidya took several pics of him in that beautiful terminal. The time was around 8.15 p.m. Getting nearer Toi's deadline. Time was really running out and as a result the interview was not an exhaustive one.

             Dementiev suggested that I interview him sitting in his car and it was a great idea. Reproduced below are the points:-

             * The purpose of his visit to Mumbai?

              A--To participate in the 50th anniversary celebrations of the first manned space flight by Yuri Gagarin and excite and inspire kids to join the space profession. ``I am going to do this at the Nehru Centre tomorrow,'' he said.

             * His most memorable moment in space?

              A--There are plenty, but I will never forget how me and my crew mates restored the tumbling Salyut-7 space station which was going out of control. It had lost a lot of its energies. It was quite tough task and proved to be quite a challenge. We did it successfully and it happened in 1985. A year earlier in April 1984, it was occupied by Rakesh Sharma---the first Indian spaceman.

             * The debate between the advantages and disadvantages of manned and unmanned space missions. There is a feeling that manned missions are largely prompted by political considerations. Can he comment?

              A-No I do not agree. Yes, manned missions do have a huge political element, but the focus is also there on a lot of scientific research. Infact I would say that manned flights help to evaluate technologies for unmanned missions.

              *  How does he compare the space shuttle with the Russian Soyuz spacecraft?

              A--Both are reliable, but the shuttle faces more challenges.

               *- Does he regret not having flown to the moon?

              A--I have no regrets of not going to the moon. But, yes I do want to return to space. I have made this request to the Russian Federal Space Agency, Roskosmos. They said that they will consider it taking into consideration my age. If the American astronaut, John Glenn can fly at the age 77 in a space shuttle, why can't I?'' he asked.

              After the interview which was around 9 p.m. BMM had to hunt for a cyber cafe to file the interview for the TOI in Vile Parle (east) whch was not that easy. Finally, it located one and while doing the report the net stopped functioning because of a problem with the server. A few minutes later the net came back and by the time BMM completed the report it was nearly 9.30 p.m. 

              Neither Vidya's pics nor BMM's story made it to the paper on Thursday.

              Not surprised.

              At the Nehru Centre on Thursday morning.

              He inaugurated a photography exhibition related to space and then distributed participation certificates to 60 children who took part in a painting contest called ``First In Space''  now on display at the Star City, the home of the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre near Moscow.

              Speaking to the kids, he said that in the last 50 years 37 countries have sent their people to space and India is among them. ``Rakesh Sharma's flight triggered a lot of excitement among youngsters to go into space,'' he said .

              Post Gagarin and post Rakesh Sharma flight, more and more people became involved in space research. ``India has launched different types of rockets and satellites and I am happy that this country is also planning a manned space mission,'' he stated.

              In his evening presentation at the Nehru Centre, he gave a background about his space missions and praised India's space technology. ``Russia used an Indian satellite to probe a forest fire last year,'' he said while adding that this country's space achievements have matured to such an extent that they can help other space faring nations to accomplish their space objectives.

              Unfortunately, because of the heavy rains at Chembur, my friend Pradeep Mohandas, could not make it to the lecture. Sure, he did miss something.

              Comparing the Russian and US space programmes, he said that in the last 50 years, there was just one cancellation of a rocket flight in Russia and another one exploded. Otherwise, all other missions took off without any hitch. ``At the Baikonour cosmodrome the weather is fine and even during winter the rockets are launched on schedule,'' he stated.

              At Nasa's Kennedy Space Centre, missions get postponed or cancelled because of uncertainty in the weather or technical problems.

               According to him alll international space missions have to be international in character.

               He said that Mumbai should erect a statue of Gagarin and also name the new flyover at Lalbaug after him.

               A good idea.  .



Tuesday, June 7, 2011

An international crew to the International Space Station

        It is a space mission which lifted off from the Baikonor cosmodrome early on Wednesday (IST) having as its motto--- let bygones be bygones.

        A Russian, a Japanese and an American boarded a hi tech TMA-02M Soyuz spacecraft and blasted off to the International Space Station (ISS) where they will spend about five months joining three others.

       Those who flew on Wednesday are Sergey Volkov who is making his second visit to space, Nasa astronaut, Mike Fossum who is flying to space for the third time and the Japanese, Satoshi Furukawa, for whom it is the first.

       Why bygones be bygones?

       In his blog Fossum says: ``Who could have imagined back then the launch to begin Russia's second half century of human spaceflight would include an American air force colonel, a Russian and a Japanese doctor-cum-astronaut. The history of our three countries includes periods of intense conflict and horrific strife, yet here we are---American, Russian and Japanese crew mates fused together as a crew.............''

      The three crew members represent nations which at one time faught with each other, but now united in their aim to explore space. Their motto apparently is: let bygones be bygones.They are carrying about 40 experiments to the space station which includes growing food in space.

      It is the 110th flight of the Soyuz spacecraft since the first one was launched in 1967. It is the second mission using the upgraded Soyuz TMA spacecraft which has a modernised flight control system and reduced mass. Obselete pieces have been replaced with 19 new generation devices and the spacecraft's total mass has been reduced by 70 kgs.

       The Soyuz will become the main manned space transportation system to the ISS  with the phasing out of the space shuttle from next month.

     Soon after the night lift off it took eight minutes to reach the orbit around the earth and will dock with the ISS on Thursday. Interestingly, this will be the last crew to receive the space shuttle ``Atlantis,'' at the space station on July 10 on its final mission which will conclude the story of the space shuttle. Fossum called the shuttle a truck while he described the Soyuz as a ship for people.

      Volkov in a pre launch interview at Baikonor said that the Soyuz `` is like a home. It is made for you. You will love this spaceship.''

      BMM watched the Soyuz launch on Russia TV and sure it was an awesome and terrific sight. A mighty rocket with the three spacemen blasted off with a thunder into the night sky over Baikonor and almost lit it up. BMM has downloaded the video. It has two other videos----one showing the rocket being brought to the launch pad--the Gagarin launch pad--and the other one which describes the life of the three cosmonauts at Baikonor before launch. 

      Fantastic footages and spacebuffs like BMM can watch them again and again.