Sunday, February 13, 2011

Nasa and India---a twist of irony.

      It is a story laced with irony.

      In 2008-09, Nasa snatched away the credit from India for the discovery of water on the moon

      Now almost two years later, a prestigious Nasa mission, none other than the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) which was launched by the space shuttle Discovery on April 24, 1999, has confirmed that the water on the moon was first found by Chandra Altitudunal Composition Explorer, in short known as Chace, which was one of the three payloads on board the indigenous Moon Impact Probe (MIP) of Chandrayaan-1. Analysis of the data from the HST has endorsed Chace's findings which will make top Isro officials who are now under a scanner for their alleged involvement in the Antrix-Devas perhaps hang their head in shame. This is really ironical.

      The confirmation was announced at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society in January 2011. A very elated project manager of Chace, Syed Maqbool Ahmed, told ``Beyond Moon and Mars (BMM)'' S:ientists from the Western world for the first time acknowledged the published work of direct evidence of water on the moon by India.'' Congrats Syedji. Chace, you and your team have done India proud. All of you are deserving of greater honours.

      An article in the current issue of ``Voyage,'' the in-house journal of Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre by Tirtha Pratim Das, a scientist, who was a part of the Chace project says: ``Observations from the Hubble Space Telescope have confirmed the discovery of the water and hydroxyl atmosphere in the lunar environment made by the CHACE payload in Chandrayaan-1/MIP mission. When it said `water atmosphere or `hydroxyl atmosphere' in scientific jargon, it really means the presence of water molecules or hydroxyl molecules making their independent (non-interacting) respective atmospheres in the lunar environment without any inter-particle collision.''

      He writes: ``The CHACE (Chandra's Altitudunal Composition Explorer) experiment onboard the Moon Impact Probe (MIP) in Chandrayaan-1 mission made the first successful measurement on the lunar day-side atmosphere on 14th November,2008. .... The analysis of CHACE data revealed the presence of H20 and 0H molecules in significant amount at all the latitudes maximising ......''

       Das said that the observation was published during the American Astronomical Society (AAS) meeting in January 2011.   

     Chace made the sensational breakthrough on the night of November 14,2008, while the MIP was zooming towards the moon. The scientists had the confirmed data 10 days later. Despite this it was surprising that Isro wanted to announce the discovery only after Nasa had confirmed it. Why should this have happened?  Does Nasa announce its findings only after Isro had endorsed it. No never. Nasa has tremendous confidence in its scientists.

     The reason given by Madhavan Nair, who announced the discovery 10 months later in September 2009 was that since MIP's was a short duration flight only lasting for 26 minutes, Isro wanted more proof from Nasa before going public. It did not want to do anything in a hurry. Carle Pieters, principal investigator of the Moon Minerology Mapper (M3), which was one of the six foreign instruments of Chandrayaan-1, took advantage of this and walked away with the bouquets for the findings which grabbed the world media headlines. Yes, she gave tributes to Isro and Chandrayaan-1 during her Washington media briefing, but surprisingly avoided any reference to Chace. Why?  Nair was then chairman of Isro.

     BMM wonders whether Isro will announce the important confirmation by HST in its website. Till now there is no mention of Chace's discovery in the website. Extremely strange situation and BMM would label it as Moongate after Watergate. It is a real scam and a group of scientists need to probe this.

     Again hats off to Ahmedji and his team of young scientists who have really placed the tri colour on the moon.

     In another important development, Isro chairman, K.Radhakrishnan, announced on Saturday that the Space Commission has given the `go' for India's participation in Nasa's mission to the moon designated as MoonRise.

      The mission is slated for launch in October 2016 and the rocket will be the Atlas V-531 from Cape Canaveral in Florida. Radhakrishnan said that the Indian spacecraft will weigh between 400-500 kgs with a five-year life span

       He said that this moon mission is a result of Obama's visit to India during which a joint statement was released which emphasised stronger co-operation in the space sector between both the countries.

       Radhakrishnan said that Nasa will formally take a decision regarding India's participation later this year. It is learnt through other sources that the task of negotiating with Nasa, apart from Isro officials will also be handled by the space counsellor at the Indian embassy in Washington DC.        
       Though MoonRise is a sample return mission---meaning it will return one kg of rock samples from the moon's South Pole Aitken basin for analysis--it is however, not clear whether it will be an orbiting mission with regards to India or whether it will also be a sample return mission.

        Will Indian labs have an opportunity to analyse the lunar rocks as it happened with the Apollo missions?

         These questions have to be answered.



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