Saturday, April 30, 2011

After the nuke deal, comes a space deal

      First a controversial nuclear deal with the US. Now looms the possibility of a space deal.

      Such a hint was dropped by a US-based history scholar, Ashok Maharaj, on Wednesday while addressing a symposium on ``Key Moments in Human Spaceflight,'' to mark 50 years of the first manned space mission by Yuri Gagarin and 30 years of space flight operations.

      Ashok,  currently a Guggeinham fellow in the division of space history at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington announced: ``An Indo-Us space agreement similar to 123 pact of the Indo-Us nuke deal is in the offing.''

      The reason for this, he said was that the Us wanted to play an active role in India's space programme and Boeing wanted to have a major part.

      After the experience with the Indo-Us nuke deal, India needs to tread with considerable caution while going in for a space deal. The reason is while seeking advantages from the deal, India's space programme should not surrender to the Us. It should be completely slanted in favour of this country unlike the nuke agreement.

      In the case of the nuke deal, India seems to have tied itself up in knots because the liabality issue is beating all solutions. This has prevented the full operationalisation of the deal. A similar thing definately should not happen in the space sector.

      A possible scenario being envisaged is that the deal could perhaps lead to a situation, which may result in India completely scrubbing its manned space mission project and instead depend upon the US private players to fly an Indian to space. This should not happen.

     What is the message? Based on the experience of the Indo-Us nuke deal, let this country move cautiously while negotiating a space pact with the Us.

    Ashok's talk mainly focussed on this country's manned mission project which according to him was the result of China sending a man to orbit.

    Seeing the slow pace of development in the human space flight project, he estimated that it will take anything between 12 to 15 years for the project to fructify, not seven to eight years as being repeatedly mentioned.

    ``There is no planning and a launch vehicle has to be developed. The project has not received the formal go-ahead from the government,'' he said.

    ``Starting late has its advantage. India can learn from other countries to define its own programme and frame it to suit its own needs,'' he said while emphasising that its core programme should remain unaffected..

     He said that India's manned space mission project is driven by prestige to catch up with China, ``China has crossed several milestones. By the time,  India puts its first man in orbit, China will be far ahead. India should not ape China,'' he added.

     Though Isro officials refuse to make a firm committment on this issue, Ashok believes that if the human space flight programme by chance turns into a reality, then there is every likelihoold that ``in the next 20 years time frame there is a possibility of sending a man to the moon.''

     A valid point.

     But there are two or three points which can be dicussed:

     * China is building its own space station. What will be India's response if China invites India's participation in the programme?

     * Again what will be India's reaction, if Pakistan participates in the China's space station programme.

     * The Chinese space station will have a three-man crew. Can it be an Chinese, Indian and a Pakistani?

     Yes, a dream scenario, but it can become a reality.   

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Congrats Voyager

Hats off Voyager!
Both of u have done it again!
U have crossed a major milestone in space exploration
A report prepared by Tony Philips of Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory says that more than 30 years later the twin Voyagers are still working. And with each passing day they are beaming back a message that, to scientists, is both unsettling and thrilling. 

The message is, "Expect the unexpected." 

"It's uncanny," says Ed Stone of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Voyager Project Scientist since 1972. "Voyager 1 and 2 have a knack for making discoveries."
Today, April 28, 2011, NASA held a live briefing to reflect on what the Voyager mission has accomplished--and to preview what lies ahead as the probes prepare to enter the realm of interstellar space in our Milky Way galaxy.

The adventure began in the late 1970s when the probes took advantage of a rare alignment of outer planets for an unprecedented Grand Tour. Voyager 1 visited Jupiter and Saturn, while Voyager 2 flew past Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. (Voyager 2 is still the only probe to visit Uranus and Neptune.)

When pressed to name the top discoveries from those encounters, Stone pauses, not for lack of material, but rather an embarrassment of riches. "It's so hard to choose," he says.

Stone's partial list includes the discovery of volcanoes on Jupiter's moon Io; evidence for an ocean beneath the icy surface of Europa; hints of methane rain on Saturn's moon Titan; the crazily-tipped magnetic poles of Uranus and Neptune; icy geysers on Neptune's moon Triton; planetary winds that blow faster and faster with increasing distance from the sun.

"Each of these discoveries changed the way we thought of other worlds," says Stone.

In 1980, Voyager 1 used the gravity of Saturn to fling itself slingshot-style out of the plane of the solar system. In 1989, Voyager 2 got a similar assist from Neptune. Both probes set sail into the void. 

Sailing into the void sounds like a quiet time, but the discoveries have continued.

Stone sets the stage by directing our attention to the kitchen sink. "Turn on the faucet," he instructs. "Where the water hits the sink, that's the sun, and the thin sheet of water flowing radially away from that point is the solar wind. Note how the sun 'blows a bubble' around itself."

There really is such a bubble, researchers call it the "heliosphere," and it is gargantuan. Made of solar plasma and magnetic fields, the heliosphere is about three times wider than the orbit of Pluto. Every planet, asteroid, spacecraft, and life form belonging to our solar system lies inside. 

The Voyagers are trying to get out, but they're not there yet. To locate them, Stone peers back into the sink: "As the water [or solar wind] expands, it gets thinner and thinner, and it can't push as hard. Abruptly, a sluggish, turbulent ring forms. That outer ring is the heliosheath--and that is where the Voyagers are now."

The heliosheath is a very strange place, filled with a magnetic froth no spacecraft has ever encountered before, echoing with low-frequency radio bursts heard only in the outer reaches of the solar system, so far from home that the sun is a mere pinprick of light.

"In many ways, the heliosheath is not like our models predicted," says Stone.

In June 2010, Voyager 1 beamed back a startling number: zero. That's the outward velocity of the solar wind where the probe is now. No one thinks the solar wind has completely stopped; it may have just turned a corner. But which way? Voyager 1 is trying to figure that out through a series of "weather vane" maneuvers, in which the spacecraft turns itself in a different direction to track the local breeze. The old spacecraft still has some moves left, it seems.

No one knows exactly how many more miles the Voyagers must travel before they "pop free" into interstellar space. Most researchers believe, however, that the end is near. "The heliosheath is 3 to 4 billion miles in thickness," estimates Stone. "That means we'll be out within five years or so."

There is plenty of power for the rest of the journey. Both Voyagers are energized by the radioactive decay of a Plutonium 238 heat source. This should keep critical subsystems running through at least 2020. 

After that, he says, "Voyager will become our silent ambassador to the stars."

Each probe is famously equipped with a Golden Record, literally, a gold-coated copper phonograph record. It contains 118 photographs of Earth; 90 minutes of the world's greatest music; an audio essay entitled Sounds of Earth (featuring everything from burbling mud pots to barking dogs to a roaring Saturn 5 liftoff); greetings in 55 human languages and one whale language; the brain waves of a young woman in love; and salutations from the secretary general of the United Nations. A team led by Carl Sagan assembled the record as a message to possible extraterrestrial civilizations that might encounter the spacecraft.

"A billion years from now, when everything on Earth we've ever made has crumbled into dust, when the continents have changed beyond recognition and our species is unimaginably altered or extinct, the Voyager record will speak for us," wrote Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan in an introduction to a CD version of the record.

Some people note that the chance of aliens finding the Golden Record is fantastically remote. The Voyager probes won't come within a few light years of another star for some 40,000 years. What are the odds of making contact under such circumstances?

On the other hand, what are the odds of a race of primates evolving to sentience, developing spaceflight, and sending the sound of barking dogs into the cosmos?
Expect the unexpected, indeed.

The Voyagers were built by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., which continues to operate both spacecraft. JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. The Voyager missions are a part of the NASA Heliophysics System Observatory, sponsored by the Heliophysics Division of the Science Mission Directorate. 

For more information about the Voyager spacecraft, visit: and .
Written by Tony Phillips
Jia-Rui Cook 818-354-0850/359-3241
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.


Wednesday, April 27, 2011

A great Gagarin tribute. China unveils plan for its space station

        Trust China to do it.

        Instead of the usual speeches and cultural programmes to mark the 50th anniv of the first manned space flight by Yuri Gagarin on April 12,1961, China observed the anniversary in a bigger way which will be always be remembered.

        Any guess how China observed the anniv?

        On Monday April 25, almost a fortnight after the anniversary, it unveiled a detailed plan of its own space station which is expected to become operational in 2020---around the same time when the International Space Station (ISS) could perhaps end its life span.

        Right now the Chinese space station has been christened Tiangong which means heavenly palace, but the office of China's Manned Space Engineering Office has invited the public to suggest names for the space station. Why cannot India emulate the example of China and invite atleast school students to think of names for the rover which will land on the moon during the Chandrayaan-2 mission tentatively in 2013?

        According to ``China Daily,'' and other media, the weight of the Chinese station will be 66 tonnes which will accommodate a crew of three and will have two labs relating mainly to the areas of astronomy, microgravity and biological studies. Contrast this to the weight of the ISS which is 419 tonnes and the Russian Mir Station (decommissioned in 2001) 137 tonnes.

       China has invited scientists from all over the world to participate in its space station programme. The question is what will be India's response?  It has been dithering over the decision to take part in the ISS despite repeated pressures from the US including its president Obama.

       With the growing stature of India as an important global space power will there be a competition now between the US and the China to pull this country towards their own space stations?. This is of course not to suggest that the ISS is entirely an US enterprise: it is a 17-nation programme.

        ``China Daily,'' states that the cargo spaceship to transport supplies to the Chinese space station will also be developed.

        The programme envisages Tiangong-1 (the first phase of the space station) and Shenzhou-7 being launched this year and executing the first unmanned rendevous. Thereafter, Shenzhou 1X and X will be launched to dock with Tiangong-1

        China will gradually build the space station and going by its earlier record one is certain that it will be ready by 2020.    

        Congrats China.

        In India, the government did not use the 50th anniv of Gagarin's flight to announce its support for the country's human space mission programme.

        What a pity!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Cold War politics at the International Space Station.?

        The next eight months promise to be a period during which space enthus like ``Beyond Moon and Mars (BMM) will watch with interest the space relationship between the two old Cold War rivals---the US and the Soviet Union (former).

        Will it be marked by confronation or colloboration? Ironically this development is taking place at a time when the world is observing the 50th anniv of the first human space mission on April 12, 1961, by Yuri Gagarin.

         When astronauts like Rakesh Sharma and Sunita Williams stated in an interview to BMM recently that people must fly to space as reps of the earth rather than that of any single nation, a sort of a tension is slowly developing between the US and Russia. This can perhaps impact on the space ties among other nations as well.

          How did this happen? The unexpected controversy has been triggered by SpaceX, a private American space organisation, planning to dock its spacecraft,  Dragon, with the International Space Station (ISS) in December 2011. SpaceX has saught the approval of Nasa.  Nasa recently announced a multi million dollar commercial crew development contract with SpaceX.

         On Friday--April 22--the head of Roscosmos' manned spaceflight department, Alexei Krasnov, said in a statement::  ``We will not issue docking permission unless the necessary level of reliabity and safety of the spacecraft is proven. So far we have no proof that those spacecraft duly comply with the accepted norms of the spaceflight safety,'' he stated. It has been published by Ria Novosti.

         SpaceX's flight plan envisages two Dragon flights taking place this year.  In the first flight, the spacecraft will perform a flyby---flying around the space station---and approaching it within 10 kms. In the second mission, it will actually dock with the space station which will take place in December 2011.
         Maybe the Russians have a point, but at the same time it must be noted that the SpaceX will not execute a mission which will compromise on safety levels. Their reputation will be at stake if anything fails. 

         In this scenario, one wonders how the US Congress will respond? Will it be a knee jerk reaction saying that the US should deny permission to Russian spacecraft to dock at the ISS?

         BMM feels that the issue will be finally settled thru diplomatic channels involing also the White House and Kremlin. The US should agree to some of the demands which Roscosmos is likely to make for giving the final approval for allowing Dragon to operate to the space station. There has to be a spirit of give and take.

         Let both the countries not forget the Apollo-Soyuz mission which literally marked the end of the Cold War.

         The era of the space shuttle will come to an end in June 2011. If American astronauts have to fly to the space station, they have no choice but to depend upon the Russians until the US develops its own replacements for the space shuttle. Indian-American astronaut, Sunita Williams will begin training for a Soyuz flight in May 2011. She is expected to fly to the space station in May 2012.

         To repeat the words of Sunita and Rakesh, let there be colloboration rather than confrontation in manned space missions.


Thursday, April 21, 2011

Space coincidence

          It was a coincidence in space.

         On Wednesday, there was a strengthening of Indo-Russian space sector when the mighty Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) flew a Russian instrument on board the YouthSat satellite---one of the three satellites carried by the rocket.

         The instrument designed and developed by the Moscow State University, is called Solrad and will be used for mainly studying solar radiation.

         On Thursday, just 24 hours after the highly successful PSLV mission, an exhibition about the world's first spaceman, a Russian cosmonaut, Yuri Gagarin, opened in the first floor lobby of the Nehru Planetarium in Worli. The show will remain open till April 30 between 11 a.m. and 6 p.m.

         It comprises the same 75 pics which were on display earlier at the Russian Centre For Science and Culture on Pedder Road and the Russian Consulate on Napean Sea Road. The main advantage of having it at the planetarium is that it will definately provide a greater exposure to the public about Gagarin, who became the first man to fly into space on April 12, 1961.

         As planetarium director, Piyush Pandey, said at the inauguration on Thursday about 2000 visitors come to the planetarium daily. So he predicted that the same number will see the Gagarin show.

         Though the exhibition is interesting and educative, two or three things came to the mind of `Beyond Moon and Mars (BMM). First:  why is a film about Gagarin's historic flight is not being screened anywhere? A lot of them are available on the net and BMM had downloaded two of them and transferred them into a dvd. A film show would have made the Gagarin exhibition more exciting and memorable.

          Second:  was I.M.Kadri the right person to inaugurate an exhibition about Gagarin? Maybe, the Russian consul general, A.A.Novikov, or the director of the Russian centre, V.V. Dementiev, would have certainly been a better choice.

          Another thing---cannot these super pics be converted into a catalogue and sold to the public?

          This would be a real precious souvenir of the 50th year of first manned space flight.             

          A food for thought folks

          Let us make the Gagarin anniv more exciting and memorable..


Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Congrats Isro. U have done it.

       It was all smiles in the mission control room at Sriharikota on Wednesday morning.

       Tonight Isro scientists will perhaps uncork the champagne bottle.And the first to do it could even by Isro chairman, K.Radhakrishnan, who has suffered a spate of misfortunes ever since he took command of the space agency in October/ November 2009.

       Why not? 

       After two consecutive failures of the Geo Synchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) and the controversy relating to the Antix-Devas deal, which plunged Isro into a deep crisis, Isro began bouncing back today --to use the phrase of Tifr space scientist, Mayank Vahia.

       The 44.4 metre tall Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) carrying three satellites---Resourcesat-2, YouthSat, a joint Indo-Russian venture and a brain child of APJ Abdul Kalam, and X-Sat from Singapore, lifted Isro out of its crisis, atlleast partially. The much awaited lift off was at sharp 10.12 a.m. from Sriharikota. Eighteen minutes later the three satellites were placed in their respective orbits amidst thunderous applause from those in the mission control room.

       Frankly, ``Beyond Moon and Mars (BMM)'' was a little apprehensive because when it activated the TV and tuned on to DD National, there was an nterview with Raja Ramanna, the father of the Indian nuclear bomb. It was the same interview which was shown on December 25,2011 just before the telecast of the GSLV launch began. The GSLV took off and headed straight towards the sea!

      BMM is a close friend and admirer of Ramanna. But, sometimes one becomes a little supersititious. So when the telecast of the Ramanna interview began just before the PSLV launch coverage, BMM hoped in a light hearted way that the PSLV flight will not be a replay of the Christmas day GSLV mission!

      But the flight proved that superstitious should be set aside. One needs to know that space folks are generally extremely superstitious, Read about the rituals followed by Russian cosmonauts before they take off! 

      And the PSLV did succeed. And what a success. Everyone in the mission control room heaved a sigh of relief and the day undoubtedly belonged to mission director P.Kunhi Krishnan. All their prayers were answered. Watching the lift off with BMM were workmen who are refurbhing the house. They were all excited and thrilll seeing the awesome rocket lift off travelling in a plume of yellowish and white smoke. Ever since they have started working in this house most of them have been converted into space freaks! 

      After the success of the mission was formally declared by Isro chairman, K.Radhakrishnan, BMM contacted scientists in Mumbai,  Pune and Kolkata for their response. All of them said that the success will restore the image of Isro which had been bruised by the two failures of the GSLV and the Antrix-Devas controvery.

     Surprisingly, the best quote came from director of Nehru Planetarium, Piyush Pandey, with whom BMM always had quarrels regarding the wording of his reactions. But, today there was no fight or argument and BMM decided went to the extent of even leading with his comment while filing a report for The Times of India.

     Let these smiles remain during the next missions.

     We are told that there will be quite a number of them.

     Good wishes and God Speed.       

Monday, April 18, 2011

What a book about Chandrayaan !

        One has to be truly passionate and devoted to Chandrayaan-1 in order to be a proud owner of this beautiful coffee table book.

        On Monday afternoon when ``Beyond Moon and Mars (BMM)'' was reading a book about The Times of India, the contractor who is supervising the renovation of our flat brought a huge packet and handed it over to it.

         BMM ripped open the huge cover and what did it contain? A lunar atlas called ``Images Of The Moon From Chandrayaan-1.''  Published by Isro's Ahmedabad-based Space Application Centre, According to the centre director, R.R.Navalgund, who has played a key role in bringing out the volume, the atlas was released on January 11,2011, during the inauguration of the centre's new auditorium and was presented to PM Manmohan Singh, the governor of Gujarat and chief minister of Gujarat on March 26,2011.

        The atlas contains numerous pictures obtained from Chandrayaan-1's Terrain Mapping Camera (TMC), the Hyper Spectral Imager (HySi), both designed and developed at the Space Applications Centre, and the Moon Impact Probe.

        Many of the pictures have revealed hitherto unknown aspects about the Chandrayaan-1 mission as well as the moon. Interestingly, the Moon Impact Probe's imagery and the estimated impact point locations have also been provided in different plates. In the opening chapter, entitled ``Man and the Moon,'' it says that the features imaged by the TMC camera and mineralisation of the HySi ``will further boost up the efforts to understand our nearest neighbour and in future how this moon's surface could be utilised for launching other planetary missions with establishing a lunar base.''

       There are details about the 11 payloads  and a picture taken of India by Chandrayaan-1 on March 25,2009. Equally, fascinating is the picture of the earthrise over the moon taken by the TMC on July 22,2009.

        The pictures of the craters and the lava flows are indeed three dimensional which will definately make the reader feel it he or she was the 12th payload on board Chandrayaan-1!

         One of the most important pictures is that of the rilles with un-collaspsed and intact roof tops which are supposed to be potential sites for the future human settlements on the moon as they would protect them from the lethal shower of falling object, the extreme surface temperatures durng the day and the harmful cosmic rays.

         BMM first heard about this while participating at a Chandrayaan science meet organised by the Physical Research Laboratory at Ahmedabad in January 2010.

         There are also photographs of the Apollo 15 and Apollo 17 landing sites.

         Regarding the images from the Moon Impact Probe and the estimation of its landing point, the atlas says that based on ``calculations the MIP should have travelled 13 km on the moon surface for capturing five frames. There is a picture of the Shackleton Crater and Jawahar Sthal where the Indian National Flag is placed.

         A fantastic atlas and congrats to the SAC team particularly Dr Navalgund.

         And thank you Dr Navalgund for sending it to BMM.

         One suggestion----is there a possibility of making this atlas accessible to the public?.


Saturday, April 16, 2011

Gagarin vs Armstrong---a silly debate. ESA and Gagarin.

        One circled the earth for 108 minutes, and became the first man to fly into space. The other became the first to step on to the surface of the moon, uttering the memorable words: ``One Small Step For Man, But Giant Leap For Mankind.''

        Who are they?

        One is Yuri Gagarin and the other is Neil Armstrong. One a Russian and the other an American. They belong to two countries, which were arch Cold War rivals when Gagarin and Armstrong made history. They present a picture of contrasts------one extremely communicative, while the other is recluse.

        Now 50 years after Gagarin circled the globe in his spacecraft on April 12,1961, a debate has started among a section of political analysts, blog writers and space historians as to whose achievement is greater---Gagarin's or Armstrong's?  The question being asked is---did Armstrong overshadow Gagarin or vice versa?

       According to some, the US having lost the initial space race is now trying to prove that it ultimately won the competition by putting the first man on the moon!

       In the opinion of  ``Beyond Moon and Mars (BMM)''  this is indeed a very silly and trival topic to analyse and debate about. This is a meaningless exercise being carried out by only those who have a lot of time to spare and enjoy a considerable amount of leisure.

       Their achievements are equal because, apart from various technical, scientific and engineeering factors, one took the risk of being the first to enter space, and the other took the risk of being the first stand on the surface of the moon. Both were equally risky and, therefore, both deserve equal credit. To say  one's achievement is greater than the other's is therefore baseless.

       One showed that man can go into space and the other showed that man can stand on the surface of the moon. While praising one, let us not run down the other. This is an unfair comparision being done only by those who have little knowledge about space technology. 

       In conclusion, let us not waste our time trying to compare the achievements of Gagarin and Armstrong. Both broke new records and both deserve equal credit.


       While it is unfair to compare Gagarin and Armstrong, it is worth comparing the special section devoted Gagarin in both the NASA and European Space Agency's  (ESA) website.

       While Nasa commemorated the 50th anniversary of the first human space mission with a video, a photo gallery and feature, it is undoubtedly no comparision to the one produced by ESA.

       The ESA section is packed with information and undoubtedly much better than that of Nasa's. Those behind have really taken a lot of trouble.

       For those keen to know more about Gagarin, they should access ESA's section.

       The Japanese Space Exploration Agency (Jaxa) has devoted a small part to the anniversary.

       And as far as Isro is concerned.



Thursday, April 14, 2011

Is It Cold Storage or will India Partner With Russia----India's human space flight programme.

          During the 50th anniversary celebrations on Wednesday night of the first human space flight by Yuri Gagarin which was organised by the Russian Science and Cultural Centre, the Russian deputy consul general, Alexey M.Mzareulov, announced that an Indian cosmonaut will fly on a Russian spacecraft in 2015.

         He said that for this mission Isro and the Russian space agency will jointly build the spacecraft. He also said that India will redesign the Soyuz space capsule for this flight. ``If the mission is successful, India will become the fourth nation in the world after Russia, the US and China to send a manned mission into space,'' he told the large gathering at the Russian Science and Cultural centre, which included several American diplomats too.

         He also said that India will launch its own manned space flight in 2017. The cost of this project is around Rs 13,000 crores.

         These statement does make space freaks like BMM very happy, but  Mzareulov is perhaps not aware that for the time being Isro has decided to shelve this project for a variety of reasons, the main one being the absence of a formal government approval. Immediately, after he made this announcement, ``Beyond Moon and Mars (BMM)'' called a senior Isro official in Bangalore and read out Mzareulov's statement. The Isro official responded by saying that there was no immediate possibility of this project taking off.

        ``The GSLV programme is in a mess and Isro is in a crisis. So the chances of a manned mission are dim right now,'' he told BMM, his voice reflecting his disappointment and frustation at the way things are developing in Isro. The human space flight programme envisages the GSLV being used for the manned space flight which will take off from Sriharikota..

       The official's statement could not have come at a more appropriate time, because today (April 15 2011) marks the first anniv of the failure of the first GSLV flight with an indigenous engine. Soon after the rocket plunged into the Bay of Bengal, Isro chairman, K.Radhakrishnan, gave a solemn assurance that within a year the next GSLV will lift off with a home-made engine.

       A year has happened and nothing has happened. What is worse there is no indication either as to when it will take off.``The indigenous cryogenic engine project is also facing problems,'' he told BMM.  

       Under these circumstances where is the question of an Indian manned mission lifting off from Sriharikota in the near future? Right now the project seems a distant dream.

       But, let us not dismiss Mzareulov's statement. Why?  If the GSLV programme fails to progress satsifactorily, and by chance if there was pressure on the government to launch a manned mission due to technical and geo political factors, there is every possibility that India might seek Russia's help. Yes, it will be a replay of Rakesh Sharma's flight, but then it will provide an opportunity for India to declare proudly that it has put an vyomanaut into orbit. In a recent interview, Rakesh was shocked that still the rocket and spacecraft to be used for the manned mission by India have not yet been man-rated.

       So one wonders what will be the thinking of the government regarding the manned space flight programme.

       Will it be put in cold storage? or

       Will it once again knock at Russia's doors?

        Let us wait and watch

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

We have lift off of Gagarin.

      ``Beyond Moon and Mars (BMM)'' loves music. But, it is passionate about one particular type of music. Any guess what it could be?

      It is the awesome and mighty roar and thunder of a rocket lifting off from the launch pad.which is music to the ear of BMM. It constantly hears this music and plays it any number of times on its com.

     BMM has heard this music several times at Sriharikota while watching either a Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) or th Geo Synchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) take off----needless to say the PSLV has been more frequent.

      BMM has stood atop the tank located in the terrace of Sriharikota's Brahm Prakash hall, listened to this music and waited till its sound gradually faded away and the beautiful rocket itself disappeared out of sight. Driving out of Sriharikota, the music always echoed in BMM's ear.

      On Tuesday---which is exactly a week away from the 50th anniversary of the first manned space flight by Yuri Gagarin----a Russian rocket carrying a Soyuz spacecraft named Gagarin with a three-man crew took off from the Baikonous cosmodrome for the International Space Station. The mission has been designated Expedition 27.

      This mission is of special significance because it commemorates the 50th anniversary of Gagarin's historic flight on April 12, 1961. BMM was not present at Baikonour to witness the launch early on Tuesday. But, it downloaded a video of the launch and the sound of the take off was of course music to its ear!

      The rocket rose higher and higher and BMM could see that Baikonour and its surrounding area resounded to the music of the lift off for quite some.

      Great moments----Gagarin.


Friday, April 1, 2011

Tete-e-tete with Rakesh Sharma and Sunita Williams--50th anniv

       With the countdown for the 50th anniv celebrations of the first human spaceflight by Yuri Gagarin inching towards the zero mark---the day is April 12,2011---``Beyond Moon and Mars (BMM)'' interviewed two astronauts who have flown to space regarding the significance of the 50th anniversary.

       One was Rakesh Sharma who took off on April 3,1984, to the Salyut-7 space station from the Baikonaur cosmodrome as a part of the joint Indo-Soviet space odyssey. The interview was conducted from a garden, a stone's throw distance away from BMM's house at Breach Candy in Mumbai.

       The other was Indian-American astronaut, Sunita Williams, who logged 195 days in space breaking any previous record held by women astronauts in space Both these interviews hopefully should be published in a national daily.

        BMM had met both of them during the International Astronautical Congress at Hyderabad in September 2007.

       In the case of Sunita, BMM adhered to the Nasa procedure-- it applied to the Nasa's public affairs office both in Washington and Houston . Within a few days a very helpful Nasa official from the Johnson Space Centre, Gayle Frere,  replied that the interview by telephone had been fixed for 7.30 a.m. (central daylight time) on April 1,2011. An e mail interview was ruled out.

      On getting his answer, BMM after seeking clearance from its wife, Usha, got the isd facility activated in its mobile. Thiis process was completed in 24 hours. Then with the help of its good friend and secretary of India chapter of Moon Society, Pradeep Mohandas, and a time converter, calculated the time in India when it is 7,30 Houston. . Both the time converter and Pradeep said that will be 7 p.m. in India.

      So, based on this,  exactly at 6.55 p.m. BMM called the Johnson Space Centre (JSC).. An extremely polite voice at the other end replied: ``The astronauts' office. May I help you.'' BMM explained the purpose of the call. The woman asked me to hold on saying that she will look for Sunni. BMM did not quite understand what it meant!.

      Two minutes later she came back and very apologetically said that since it was daylight saving time in Houston, the time was 8.30 a.m. in Houston. BMM had missed the interview by an hour because of a mis communication. BMM felt very disappointed because it felt that a grand opportunity had been missed. However, it said that it will take a shot again at 8.30 pm (IST). The woman at the astronauts' office welcomed the idea.

      BMM went out and came back at 8 p.m. At sharp 8.30 p.m. it called JSC again. The woman said: ``Oh yeah! Sunni is right here. She is waiting to talk to you."" BMM could not believe this.

      What was meant to be a 15-minute interview went on for 30 minutes---as it happened with Kalpana Chawla in December 1997. Sunni spoke about the significance Gagarin's flight, the 50th anniv, the debate between the advantages and disadvantages between manned and unmanned missions and of course the space shuttle. BMM felt extremely rewarded! She answered all the questions very patiently.

       BMM was lucky that it spoke to Sunni on Friday night because she was leaving for Moscow on Saturday to participate in the 50th anniversary celebrations and begin her training to fly to the International Space Station in a Soyuz spacecraft in May 2012. She will be the commander of the space station and return in December 2012.      

       BMM felt happy that during the 50th anniv it managed to talk two space people of eminence.

       For Sunni's interview, a big thank you to Gayle Frere.