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. 


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