Sunday, August 28, 2011

ISS-----where is it headed?

      It is a real piece of irony.

      In this 50th year of the first manned space flight, comes the news that the 100 billion dollar International Space Station (ISS) could be left unmanned from November 2011 if Russia is unable to solve the problem related to the Soyuz rocket.

      Could you think of a more powerful symbol of the human space flight programme than the ISS? No.By chance if the Russians are not ready with their rocket which would result in the abandonement of the space station even temporarily, a lot of scientific research would suffer.

      The problem has come up in the wake of  the third stage of the Soyuz-U rocket with an automated resupply ship bound for the space station developing a snag five-and-a-half minutes into the flight and crashed. Speculation is rife that this was a result of low pressure on the fuel side.

       This has happened against the background of Nasa's space shuttle era coming to an end leaving a major gap in the transportation to the ISS. Following the final flight of the shuttle, the US was completely dependent on the Russians to fly crew members and cargo to the ISS. Now, with uncertainities relating to Russian rockets, it seems that the future of the space station itself hangs in balance. Again, this has happenend in the 50th year of the first human space flight by Yuri Gagarin. Who can deny that the creation of the ISS was after all one of the significant outcomes of Gagarin's flight. 

        This is the fourth time this year that a Russian space programme has suffered a setback raising several questions about its quality and safety.  Roscosmos has to carry out a detailed analysis about the cause of these mishaps and not do a hurried investigation merely to restore its flights. The next mission to the space station should go without a hitch and restore the confidence of other space agencies in Roscosmos.

         One thing needs to be said, however. It was well known that Nasa was wrapping up its space shuttle programme this year. This had been publicised for quite some time ago.  Keeping this in view, maybe the US could have got ready private flights to the ISS like the Dragon atleast to carry cargo. Indications are that Dragon will make its maiden docking to the ISS in November 2011---the very month Nasa plans to ``de-man,'' the space station if Russia is unable to provide a rocket!

         Also, the European Space Agency (ESA) and Jaxa---the Japanese space agency--perhaps could have planned man rated space crafts to the ISS to fill the gap caused by the exit of the space shuttle. International space agencies connected with the ISS should have chalked out plans more thoroughly regarding the post shuttle era. Apparently, this is not the case.

         With the future of the ISS at stake, China has announced that the first phase of its space station known as Tiangong-1 will lift off next month. This will be followed by the docking of Shenzhou 8,9 and 10 to Tiangong-1 in the next few months. China hopes to completes its space station by 2020---the very year the mission life of the ISS is expected to end.

          In this 50th year of the first manned space flight, on one hand we have news about the crisis facing the ISS and on the other China launching the first part of its space station.

          Two sides of the coin.


Monday, August 22, 2011

The man who is heading for the moon

        It was really like going the moon.

        On Saturday, ``Beyond Moon and Mars (BMM)'' interviewed a person who is about to embark on a grand mission. Guess who?

        He is UP-born 52-year-old Naveen Jain, co-founder of a San Fransisco-based organisation known as Moon Express, which is participating in the prestigious Google Lunar X Prize competition slated for lift off either in 2013 or 2014. The competition envisages the participating teams to land a rover on the moon which should move atleast 500 metres and transmit data to earth. The team which makes it first will get an award money of 30 million dollars. In all there are 24 teams from a dozen countries.

        Unlike in some other cases, it was so easy contacting Naveen about whom BMM had read so much, Mikey Kelly, who is a part of the Moon Express team helped with the arrangements and BMM is extremely grateful.

        The interview was for a space website Indian Space Station (ISS).

        The interaction with Naveen began at sharp 8.30 a.m. (IST) on Saturday August 2011 and went on for about 45 minutes. It was very informal and BMM found Naveen extremely passionate about his challenging lunar mission. He is literally slogging 24X7 to ensure that his team shoots first to the moon and BMM wishes him God Speed and luck.

         Moon Express' lander weighing a mere 100 kgs will operate on micro propulsion giving it the capability to hover above the lunar surface collecting and transmitting data. It will thus be something pretty unique--in a first of its kind it will be a lander-cum-rover.

         Naveen explained that the lander will be equipped with a telescope which can be controlled from the earth. The lander underwent a full flight test on Friday at Nasa's Ames Research Centre and it was very successful, he said.

         What made the interaction very significant was Naveen's saying that Moon Express has not entirely ruled out the possibility of launching the mission from India. ``We will be delighted to use an Indian rocket and if the plan materialises ours will be the first private company in the world to use an Indian rocket,'' he said.

          ``The Indian space programme is on the right track. India has the smartest people on earth. We have the best leaders in the space industry. I think India has the capability to lead a mission to the moon and beyond,'' he said.

          He said that apart from India, Moon Express was also exploring other options. These include Orbital Sciences Taurus 11, Elon Musk's Space x Technologies Falcon 9 rocket and launch vehicles from China and Russia.

          According to him the world is short of energy. ``Why not bring down the helium-3 from the moon to earth to improve the quality of life on earth. It is not radioactive? We can also bring down platinum from the moon. Why not think of the moon as the earth's eighth continent? he asked.``The question is how can we use space to make the life of people better on earth?''  He is absolutely correct.

         ``We are going to have multiple missions and one of them could be a sample return one. It is possible that someday a big asteroid will slam against the earth and destroy it. The moon, therefore, should be made habitable and nothing will destroyed on the moon because it has no atmosphere,'' he said.

          The man who is heading for the moon says that the mission is sure to inspire the younger generation.``In the last 40 to 50 years post Apollo nothing big has happened. If the younger generation realises that a mission to moon has moved away from government agencies into the private domain, it is sure to prove inspiring to them,'' he said.

          Once again BMM wishes God Speed and Good Luck to Moon Express. 


Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Wake up India !!!!!!

         Wake up India!

         From nuclear to space. 

         Here comes the news that China will launch a Pakistani communication satellite designated as Paksat-IR soon.

         According to media reports today--August 11 2011--the satellite will also have a strategic role. In plain terms it means that it will have military applications too.

         China has always backed Pakistan's nuclear and space programmes. But, the planned launch of Paksat-IR is significant and marks a giant leap in Sino-Pak space ties. The colloboration is perhaps aimed at challenging India's space programme, and more importantly as a growing global space power.

         Do not be surprised if the next step is China helping Pakistan to reach the moon mainly to compete with India. For the next Indian moon mission, Chandrayaan-2, tentatively slated for launch in 2013, India is teaming up with Russia. Both Pakistan and China are aware of this. Therefore, keeping this in view where is the guarantee that one of the future journeys to the moon could perhaps see China and Pakistan joining hands?  The race to the moon is now focussed on Asia.

         Media reports indicate that China will soon launch the first part of its space station, Tiangong-1 which is expected to carry three Taikonauts.  Do not be surprised that in future one of them is a Pakistani scientist or pilot.

         And here in India we are waiting for the government to give the okay for the human space flight programme.

         Wake up India!


Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Wings In Orbit----A new book about the space shuttle

        As the 30-year-old space shuttle era to a close, Nasa brought out a nearly 555-page book called ``Wings In Orbit,'' which traces the scientific and engineering legacies of the controversial space vehicle.

        Though the book is not yet available in India, ``Beyond Moon and Mars' (BMM)'' close friend, Mr Amin, who runs a bookstore at D.N.Road, Sterling Book Depot, managed to procure a copy for BMM. Thank you my good friend Mr Amin.

        It is a very expensive book--paperback and almost coffee table size--but certainly for spacebuffs like BMM it is certainly worth the investment because it throws a lot of light about the design and development of the only vehicle of its kind--partly an aircraft and partly a spacecraft.---it takes off like a rocket and returns like an airline. The Nasa team must be congratulated on achieving this unique combination which proved quite a challenge.

       The forward has been written by none other than John Young and Robert Crippen, the two astronauts who were the first to fly the shuttle on April 12,1981 and return two days later.

       In analysing the book, BMM can call it as an excellent PR exercise for the shuttle. Page after page it provides numerous technical details of the vehicle which honestly for a lay reader becomes somewhat tough to grasp and understand. It would have been good if the editors had presented the facts in a more reader-friendly way: after all the book is meant for the lay person and not only for scientists and engineers.

      Their attempt was to demonstrate through this book what a marvel the space shuttle was. The question is did they succeed?

     Anyone with the remotest links with the space sector, will know that though the shuttle was a technological marvel,  it faced a lot of operational problems and consequently a financial disaster. Except for former Nasa adminstrator, Michael Griffin, hardly anyone has brought out this important aspect of the shuttle. If this had been incorporated, the book would have been more balanced, rather than a Nasa PR exercise!

       The only sections which are reader-friendly are those which discuss in detail the impact of the space shuttle project on the American educational programme. These undoubtedly make a very interesting reading and BMM suggests that nations like India having programmes like Chandrayaan should use them to promote an interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) among Indian students. 

       In the portions relating to the different achievements of the shuttle like the deployment of various satellites and telescopes, the paras read like press releases. The book should have focussed a lot on the personal experiences of those who were involved in the programme.Yes, astronauts have given personal accounts , but this has been done briefly.

       All in all as BMM has stated earlier, the book is definately worth the investment. But as BMM has also mentioned it could have done in a more interesting way.


Friday, August 5, 2011

Another 50th anniv today............................

          Unknown to many today--August 6,2011---marks the 50th anniv of another important mission related to human space flight.

          Any idea what this could be?

          It is the 50th anniv of the second Russian to fly into space--Gherman Titov.

          Titov's story is somewhat like Buzz Aldrin's. Both were ``second'' in their accomplishments and both did not hesitate to hide their disappointment that they were not the first. Aldrin was open about his feelings, while Titov hung his head as the official decision was announced. It was decided that Yuri Gagarin would be the first man to fly.

           In a TV interview to Russian Channel One in 2010, Titov's wife, Tamara Titova, said: ``Of course he suffered that it was not him, Still he was ready to carry out the mission.''  ``There was just one seat in the spaceship, so we (Gagarin and he) could not go to together, Titov told his interviewers.

           Titov was launched on August 6,1961, at Baikonour, and his flight lasted 25 hours and three minutes. His call sign was Eagle. Do you know that when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin touched down on the surface of the moon, he message was the ``Eagle Has Landed.''  Any possible links between Titov's call sign and the Armstrong's message!!!!!!!!!!!!!? 

           Though Titov was the second Russian to fly in space and the third globally--Gagarin (April 12,1961), Alan Shepherd (May 5,1961) and Titov (August 6, 1961), he notched up a number of firsts to his credit. To cite a few examples, Titov was the youngest man to fly in space--he was 26--, first person to photograph earth from space, first to sleep in space and the first to suffer space sickness which described as ghastly.

           He dedicated his flight to the 22nd Congress of Soviet Communist Party .

           Russia is observing the 50th anniv of Titov's flight by opening a memorial museum in Titov's village, Polkovnikovo, in the Altai region of Southern Siberia.

           ``Beyond Moon and Mars (BMM)'' will attempt to procure books by Titov.           

            BMM hopes it succeeds as it was with Gagarin's autobiography--``Road To The Stars.''


God Speed Juno

         The mission is to Jupiter.

         ``Beyond Moon and Mars (BMM)'' spent the last two hours watching the launch of Nasa's Juno mission to Jupiter on Nasa TV.

          According to Nasa, Juno will look deep beneath the planet's swirling curtain of clouds to find out what lies beneath. The answer might confirm theories about how the solar system was formed/.

          The four-tonne Juno spacecraft is solar powered and will reach Jupiter in 2016. The rocket which carried Juno is United Launch Alliance's Atlas V with five solid-fuelled boosters. The spacecraft carries seven payloads. The lift off was from Cape Canaveral.

          A very interesting this about this mission is that carries three 1.5 inch size mini statues of Galileo Galiilei, the Roman God Jupiter and his wife, Juno. Nasa says that this inclusion is a part of a joint outreach and educational programme developed as a part of the partnership between Nasa and the Lego group to inspire children to explore science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

         In addition the spacecraft also carries a plaque dedicated to Galileo.

          The lift off of the mighty Atlas rocket from Cape Canaveral got delayed by nearly an hour because of some technical anomolies, but fortunately they got resolved.

           Range was initially a `no go,'' because of some boats which strayed into the area, but it also gave the `go.'

          At T-4 minutes all stations switched to Channel 1 which was the launch director's channel. There was an announcement which said that the switches were in a proceed position. There was an in-built hold at this point.

          9.25 p.m. (IST) ``T-4 minutes and holding.  This is Atlas launch control,'' came the announcement..

          9.30 p.m. The launch time is extended to sort out technical issues.

          9.43 p.m. Some stations give the `go' for launch.

          The issues get resolved and rocket is authorised for launch.

          9.45 p.m.  The spacecraft goes on internal power.  Permission is given for launch.
          9.52 p.m.  The launch sequence is started and launch is enabled.


          9.54 p.m. ``We have lift off of Atlas V with Juno spacecraft,'' the announcement said.

          God Speed Juno,

          We will follow you on the Nasa website and Nasa TV..