Sunday, March 27, 2011

Take advantage of the PM's statement Isro and move ahead.

      Here is some good news folks.  On Saturday evening while addressing the space community at the Space Application Centre in Ahmedabad, PM declared, to the delight of the large gathering ,that the government will support Isro's quest to ``better understand the solar system and universe, and in the continuing discovery of space.''

      What does this mean? After making no reference to India's second unmanned mission to the moon, ``Chandrayaan-2,'' in his speech, it is strange that he has announced the government's support for Isro's quest of the solar system and the universe!

       One possible interpretation of this is that Isro perhaps has received the government's backing for a mission to Mars and even to the asteroids. For quite some time Isro scientists have been quietly working, though at an informal level, on a mission to the Red Planet. In January 2011, there was even a workshop organised at the Physical Research Laboratory (PRL) on this topic.

       But, for a variety of reasons this project has not taken off. One reason being cited for this delay is that the scientific community has yet to work out scientific proposals. The project has then to be cleared by the Space Commission. But, Singh's statement can be compared to strap ons in a rocket which will provide the additional boost to a mission to Mars.

       Whatever it is India just cannot afford to ignore such a mission because Mars is emerging as a ground for competition and rivalry among space faring nations like the moon. There is a global race to Mars with Russia, China, the US the European Space Agency and even Japan heading towards it. In such a scenario cannot India afford to remain a silent spectator? No certainly not.

      Taking advantage of the PM's assurance, ``Beyond Moon and Mars (BMM)'' feels that Isro should seriously start working on an unmanned scientific flight to Mars. In this connection Singh remarked: ``We will do all that is necessary to promote scientific discoveries and for Isro to remain at the cutting edge of technology. You will have the government's support in your quest to better understand the solar system and universe, and in the continuing discovery of space,'' he said.

       Take full advantage of this assurance Isro and move ahead.

      The question now is if a Mars mission is firmed up, will India go alone or  team up with other countries.

       Former Isro chief, Krishnaswamy Kasturirangan, has always felt that considering the cost of such a project, it would be advisable for India to join hands with another country on a journey to Mars. But, again if such an opportunity comes, which country? 

      It is also possible that the PM has given the green signal for additional flights to the moon---Chandrayaan 3, 4 and 5--though this does not mean a manned landing on the moon. It could mean a sample return flight.

      BMM repeats: Take advantage of the PM's statement and go forward.


A loaded address to the Indian space community by the PM

       It is not one of those speeches praising the present achievements, recalling the string of successes in the past and paying the usual tributes to India's space leaders.

       It is a speech which one cannot afford to ignore. It is what one may call  a refreshingly loaded one, delivering a strong message to the Indian space community. While offering the usual bouquet of praises, the PM has literally given a ``wake up'' call too, plotting the Indian space programme's future trajectory. .

       On Saturday evening  (March 26, 2011), Singh addressed the space fraternity at the Ahmedabad-based Space Applications Centre where he made a number of important points which need to be analysed.

       One of the first aspects was the PM's reference to the Geo Synchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) project. Though in just a single sentence he said: ``We should pay greater attention to the Geo Synchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle programme,'' who can deny that is not filled with with significance? .

       Why? His remark has to be seen in the context of two GSLV failures---one on April 15,2010 because of the malfunction of the Indian cryogenic engine and second one on December 25,2010 which was the result of a major technical snag..In the first case, it was the maiden flight of the GSLV with a India-made cryogenic engine which zoomed towards the sea instead of the sky!  Against this background it is clear that Singh's statement clearly reflects his concern about the problem-ridden GSLV project on which depends the future of India's second mission to the moon, ``Chandrayaan-2,'' --a joint Indo-Russian venture--tentatively slated for lift off in 2013.

        What better proof of Singh's concern than a another statement at the end of his speech where he says: ``There have been aberrations and setbacks in the space programme in the recent past. These are being dealt with in accordance with laid down procedures. It is however important that you work with renewed dedication, sincerity and zeal to fulfill the high expectations we have from our space programme.'' Read the words ``renewed dedication, sincerity and zeal to full the high expectations we have from our space programme.'' and draw your conclusions.

        Quite a strong message from none other than the PM himself considering that he holds the reign of the space portfolio along with the nuclear sector. The report of the GSLV programme should have been finalised by the end of the February according to an earlier Isro announcement. But, to date there is no word about it and there is no indication as to when one can expect it either.

        But, it was not just criticism. There was another side to his speech which made the space scientists happy on this Saturday evening. While expressing anxiety about the GSLV programme, he praised the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) project. He said: ``The Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle has had sixteen successful flights and put forty satellites in orbit, twenty five of which belong to foreign parties.''  Good, but not a word about the repeated postponement of the PSLV which was to have taken off with Resourcesat-2, Youthsat and X-Sat of Singapore, on April 10, 2011. The current indications suggest that the launch will take place sometime towards the end of April.

       Plotting the future trajectory for Isro, he said: ``It, is therefore necessary that we work towards reducing the cost of access to space. This requires expediting the development of heavy lift boosters --(a referance to the GSLV Mark 3 programme which can fly communication satellites weighing four tonnes), advanced propulsion systems including the cryogenic stage and recoverable and reusable launch systems.''

      This is a significant statement because over the years Isro has been repeatedly talking about the Reusable Launch Vehicle (RLV) project and mentioning dates when it will fly. But, these dates just come and go without any sign of the RLV launch. What is more, the PM has made no reference to the second flight of the Space Capsule Recovery Experiment (SRE) which according to original plans should have flown nearly a year-and-a-half ago. The SRE has been described as trial run of the RLV. The first SRE flight in January 2007 was a thumping success and India was the first nation to execute the tough mission successfully in the first shot itself earning it the title as India's brand ambassador at the international economic summit at Davos which was in progress at that time.

     Singh said: ``I believe it is important for Isro to concentrate its resources and evolve a perspective plan for its future development that is based on clearly defined objectives and benefits (Does this not remind you of Kennedy"s historical address on May 25,1961) when he declared ``I believe that this nation should put a man on the moon!!!!!!), ''

     Focussing on a possible future vision for Isro he said: ``The role of space-based observation systems, development of newer class of environment and monitoring systems and study of weather-related phenomena assume great importance in this regard.''  According to him, tele education, tele medicine and Village Resrouce Centre services deserve high priority. Why did he not say that the Edusat satellite was deactivated much earlier than its scheduled date?  Will Isro now plan Edusat-2? .

     All in all a very important speech which according to ``Beyond Moon and Mars,'' (BMM) almost sounds like a wake up call for Isro.

     But, there one thing which struck BMM.

     Why no mention of Chandrayaan-2. This is surprising because a number of payloads for this flight are being dessigned and developed at the Space Applications Centre.

     Again, why no mention of India's Human Space Flight project. Surprising, because it is the 50th year of the world's first manned space flight by Yuri Gagarin. Has the Indian project been given a quite burial?

     Who will answer these questions?


Friday, March 25, 2011

T-16 days. And we have lift off for the 50th anniv celebrations of first manned space flight by Gagarin

          Yes, we are right now T-16 days for the much-awaited celebrations of the first manned space flight by Gagarin.

          And what happened? In the last two days ``Beyond Moon and Mars (BMM)'' has been lucky with books relating to space exploration especially human space missions.

          On Thursday afternoon, BMM was passing by the famous Sterling Book Depot on D.N.Road and greeted its friend Amin who works at this bookstore.He waved back to BMM and asked it to come in. He showed BMM a book called ``Apollo: Expeditions To The Moon,'' a Nasa history publication, which was published to commemorate the 40th anniv of the first landing on the moon by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on July 20, 1969.

         BMM  browsed through the chapters and found that its contributors were those who had played a major role in the Apollo missions to the moon. They are James Webb, Robert Seamans, Robert Gilruth, Wernher Von Braun, George M.Low, Rocco Petrone, Christopher Kraft, Samuel Phillips, George Mueller, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins, Charles Conrad and Alan Shepherd, James Lowell and Harrison Schmitt. It is edited by Edgar M. Cortright.

         What a book! And Amin knowing BMM's obsession with space exploration took the liberty of ordering this book without informing it. In a second, BMM grabbed the book and Amin was nice enough to sell it a huge discount, though the final figure was still in four figures !!!!!

          The weight of the book is pretty strong.. Still BMM first carried it to the nearby Saraswathi temple which it visits almost everyday and then to its daughter's school, just a stone's throw distance away from the temple as well as the bookstore. BMM then carried it all the way to Trombay in a bus because it had an appointment with the chief of the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board regarding Fukushima.

          That very night, BMM set aside another book about space exploration which it was reading for the second time and began this reading this new book. It is diffucult to keep it down and BMM hopes that it will never end!!!  And it arrived at the right time---coincidentally during the 50th anniversary of the first manned space flight by Yuri Gagarin.

          For the last year or two, BMM has been searching bookstores for Yuri Gagarin's autobiography, ``The Road To Stars.''  At the Russian consulate there was a single copy, but it was in Russian!!!  On Friday, it sent an e mail to Flipkart in Bangalore regarding the availability of books about Gagarin because of the 50th anniv celebrations. And what luck!  There was an immediate response about Gagarin books which were available and believe it or not ``The Road To Stars,'' was among them.

         Though an expensive book, BMM placed an order for it and hopefully the much-awaited book should reach BMM by the end of April.

         That is not all, BMM's good friend Kumar Nair has e mailed a set of Gagarin stamps being released by the UN to mark the 50th anniv. A print out has been taken. Thank you Kumar.

         Some more books and stamps are now on their way!


Wednesday, March 23, 2011

T-19 days. We have lift off for the 50th anniv of first manned spaceflight!

    T-19 days and we have lift off for the much-awaited 50th anniv celebrations of the the first manned space flight by Yuri Gagarin.
    Once again ``Beyond Moon and Mars (BMM)'' is grateful to its good friend and also secy of India chapter of Moon Society, Pradeep Mohandas, for informing it about a new film which is being made about to mark the occasion.
    Instantly, BMM went to the site--FirstOrbit.Org and registered for downloading the film on April 12,2011--the eagerly awaited day. BMM has already downloaded the trailer from Youtube and it seems promising.
     BMM has reproduced below the story filed by BBC News about the film. navigation

A movie has been made on the space station that tries to show what Yuri Gagarin might have seen on his historic flight around the Earth in 1961.
FirstOrbit will have a YouTube premiere next month to celebrate the Russian cosmonaut's achievement 50 years on.
No film exists showing what Gagarin saw through the viewports of his Vostok capsule; there is only an audio recording of his observations.
This has now been matched to high-definition video shot from the station.
"When you combine these pictures of what he was genuinely able to see with the excitement and tingle in his voice, it's quite amazing," film director and space historian Dr Chris Riley told BBC News.
Yuri Gagarin became the first human to venture above the Earth's atmosphere when he blasted away from the Tyuratam missile range (now the Baikonur Cosmodrome) in Kazakhstan at 0607 GMT on 12 April 1961.
His 108-minute journey around the globe took him across the Soviet republics, across the Pacific Ocean, over the Straits of Magellan in South America, above the Atlantic and Africa before re-entry and a bailout back to the ground near the city of Engels in south-west Russia.
The view down to Earth along this same path has now been filmed from the International Space Station (ISS).
The pictures recorded from the orbiting platform cannot be a perfect match for Gagarin's view.
For one thing, the cosmonaut flew a path that took him closer to the poles than is possible on the ISS. The precise cloud formations 50 years ago also can never be recreated.
But the team behind the movie project hopes the sequence will nevertheless give viewers something of the sensation Gagarin must have experienced.
Paulo NespoliFilming on the station was led by Paolo Nespoli
Organising the filming onboard the busy space lab was not straightforward, said Dr Riley.
"My stipulation was that we had to film it at the same time of day that Gagarin had seen it, to get the Sun angles right," he explained. "Those chances only happen every six weeks."
The director of photography on the project was Paolo Nespoli, the European Space Agency astronaut currently living aboard the station.
The Italian is a keen photographer and his still images of the Earth taken from orbit have a big following on Flickr.
Gagarin flight (BBC)Gagarin went into darkness behind the Earth over the Pacific. He saw the Sun rise as he was moving over the South Atlantic
For FirstOrbit, he set up a camera in the station's Cupola, a kind of turret on the underside of the platform.
The Cupola has seven windows, including one that is 80cm in diameter and faces directly down to Earth.
Nespoli and his astronaut colleagues on the platform ran the camera whenever the station passed over portions of the Earth's surface that Gagarin saw.
This video was then stitched together with Gagarin's capsule recording and a music soundtrack from the composer Philip Sheppard.
Interwoven also are news reports from Radio Moscow, Tass and the BBC.
The movie will be premiered on YouTube on this year's 50th anniversary and then will be available for free download.
"Right from the very beginning, our thought was to make it and then give it away," said Dr Riley.
"Once it became clear we were making this film for all mankind to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Gagarin's flight, everyone just threw their weight behind it without any payment."
Tracy Caldwell DysonFrom the Cupola: US astronaut Tracy Caldwell Dyson takes in the spectacular view of Earth from orbit

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