Not really the best of times for India's lunar programme
After the spectacular success of Chandrayaan-1, indications are that the second moon mission, the Rs 425-crore Chandrayaan-2, will be considerably delayed. The original plan envisaged it taking off in 2012, it got postponed to 2013 and then 2014. Now the current indications are that there is every possibility that it will be further delayed because of the uncertainty of the three-stage Geo Synchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV).
In this somewhat grim scenario comes the news that Nasa has rejected the MoonRise project, a joint flight with Isro. Ironically, this unmanned scientific joint mission to the moon was announced on the 50th anniversary of John F.Kennedy's speech regarding sending Americans to the moon!
The Space Commission had approved Isro's participation in the MoonRise mission on February 12,2012, Isro chairman, K.Radhakrishnan, announced it in New Delhi the same afternoon. MoonRise would have focussed on the giant South Pole Aitken basin on the far side of the moon. The launch was tentatively slated for October 2016.
Nasa rejected the MoonRise mission--a sample return one---and another one to Venus in favour of a flight to an asteroid called ``Origins-Spectral Interpretation--Resource Identification-Security Regolith Explorer'' designated as Osiris-REx.
Though no specific reasons have been given for Nasa's rejection of the MoonRise project, speculation is rife that it did not win because of a feeling among a section of scientists that there is really nothing new to learn about the moon with so many international missions aimed at it.
Nasa had asked Isro to build the orbiter in the same pattern as Chandrayaan-1, which would have provided the communication between the rover on the lunar surface and the earth. The project would have been a team work between Isro and Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The project came under the purview of the New Frontier Programme,
The rejection has to be seen against the background of PM Manmohan Singh and President Obama issuing a joint statement in New Delhi in November 2010 which emphasised colloboration in the space section.
How seriously can one take these joint statements!