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!