Friday, October 14, 2011

Once again a very hearty congrats Isro

       U have done the nation proud again. Congrats Isro.
       On October 12, 2011, ``Beyond Moon and Mars (BMM)'' activated the computer and the TV to watch the launch of four satellites---Megha Tropiques, Jugnu, SRMSat and VesselSat-1 of Luxembourg.

       BMM had been informed that there would be live webcast of the launch. So it eagerly looked forward to it as it would provide a more clear coverage of the mission than the one on Doordarshan. Nothing really wrong with the Doordarshan coverage, except that the constant statements by the commentators and the videos tended to somewhat divert the viewer's attention from the drama and excitement which was taking place at the Satish Dhawan Space Centre, Sriharikota. It was for this reason that BMM was keen on watching the webcast rather than the doordarshan coverage.

       As we space buffs are miles away from the spaceport, we would like to be a part of the events atleast by listening to the countdown and other remarks made by those in the mission control room at Sriharikota. This is what happens when we watch a Nasa launch on Nasa TV.  But, to be honest the commentators of doordarshan unfortunately spoil the show!!!!!  Incidentally, it is time that Isro now thinks of starting a Isro TV.

      Unfortunately, because of some technical problems the webcast did not come on BMM's computer. Left with no choice, BMM had no choice, but to watch the launch on TV listening to the never ending remarks of the commentators!!!!!!!!!!

      The successful mission was historical in a number of ways and this aspect has been missed by many who have been associated with the flight. It was the first flight with a jointly designed Indo-French satellite, Megha-Tropiques; it was the first flight with an IIT-made satellite, Jugnu; it was the first flight in which two student satellites from two prestigious Indian educational institutions--IIT Kanpur and SRM University were launched together and it was a flight in which a Chennai-made satellite flew for the second time, the first one being Anusat of Anna University on April 20, 2009. . So, this mission opened a new chapter in Isro's 48-year-old history which has remained unnoticed.

      The webcast finally came on BMM's computer around 3.45, but there were several problems in playing  and downloading it. People have praised the quality of the webcast, and BMM hopes that Isro will have this arrangement for all its future missions.

      In the last 48 hours BMM has made several efforts to download the webcast, but not succeeded. Right now at the time of writing this blog BMM is in the process of downloading a 56-minute video from Youtube of the launch and it is keeping its fingers crossed. The other three pre launch Isro videos were downloaded easily.

      All in all a wonderful mission.

      Congrats again to Isro.






Monday, September 19, 2011

Journey To The moon--------- From Rs two lakhs to Rs 1470

       On Sunday, evening ``Beyond Moon and Mars (BMM),'' casually went to the Crosswords bookshop at Kemps Corner just to look around and see if there were any new new additions to space exploration and nuclear.

       There were none and BMM was not surprised!

       But, just as BMM was leaving, and when it did a final survey of the store, a particular book caught its attention which completely left it disoriented the whole night!!!

       Any idea which is that book. It was a huge coffee table publication called ``Moonfire,'' by none other than the legendary Norman Mailer, It is about the epic journey of Apollo 11 which was specially brought out to mark the 40th anniv of the first human landing on the moon.

       BMM grabbed the heavy book from the stand and flipped thru the pages. What pics and documents! It immediately left a deep and strong impact on BMM. What was the price? Rs 2100.

       The extremely amiable store manager told BMM that there was another version of the book he recently sold to an industrialist. Its price?  Rs two lakhs!!!!!  Why so expensive? The manager said along with the book where was a piece of the lunar rock too. What guarantee that it was a genuine rock!

        BMM recalls that when it was in the US it found pens being sold with a label claiming  that they were used by astronauts in space!  A terrific marketing gimmick indeed!

        Anyway coming back to the book, BMM came home from the bookshop[ very excited thinking only about this super publication  It made a loud announcement to its daughter, Rimanika and her friends. But, they took it very casually since they have been used to my never ending excitement about space exploration.

       Late at night, when BMM's wife, Usha, got back from a film, it told her about the book. She also heard it casually and gave me the `go,' to buy it. Wow!  That's great guys.

      On Monday at 11 a.m. BMM was almost the first visitor to the book shop It was hoping that the book had not been brought by any other space enthu like BMM. Who knows? .

     It carefully looked at the rack. Yes. It was there.

      BMM immediately

      A further surprised awaited BMM at the counter.

      From Rs 2100, the book was sold for Rs 1470.

      What a journey to the moon folks.

      BMM has started reading it.

      Sometimes there is luck.





Saturday, September 10, 2011

A historic journey to the centre of the moon---The Grail Mission. Personal Memories

        On Thursday, ``Beyond Moon and Mars (BMM)'' was watching the Grail launch coverage on Nasa TV from about 4 p.m. (IST),

         The excitement was steadily building up and the the moment was nearing.

         At T-37 minutes ie exactly 37 minutes prior to lift off all stations reported ready. Then came the announcement that Nasa's Grail A will reach the moon on New Years's Eve and Grail-B on January 1,2012. The `go' was repeated at 5.40 p.m. and seven minutes later came the announcement that there were no issues and the weather was green. In plain terms it means that the weather was `go' for launch.

         The launch readiness was repeated at regular intervals, but around 6 .05 p.m. it was stated that ``We are red on the upper level winds.''  The launch was resked to about 6.45 p.m.

          At 6.36 p.m. during the final readiness poll, all stations were a `go' for launch. ``The Nasa team is ready for launch,'' came the announcement.

          But four minutes later ie at 6.40 p.m. there was no change in the upper level winds and the mission was scrubbed. This happened again on Friday, and on Saturday the launch could not take place in the first attempt.

           BMM had to go out on Saturday evening and its friend, Pradeep, continuosly kept in touch regarding the launch position. Thank U Pradeep. At one point he said that the launch was just 20 minutes away. BMM was terribly disappointed that it would be missing the coverage on Nasa TV. But, it could not do anything about it, what with the worsening traffic scenario in Mumbai.

           Then Pradeep called again and gave a very good news while BMM was shopping with his daughter, Rimanika, for our dog, Dora, at Kemps Corner. The lift off was again resked because the upper level winds were once again playing spoilt sport. He said that the next attempt was at 6.38 p.m. BMM hoped and prayed it would make it this time.

           At that moment BMM and Rimanika were in the dog shop and the Saturday evening traffic was pretty bad at Kemps Corner. At 6.20 p.m. the purchases for our Dora were over and BMM called for the vehicle. Eighteen minutes left for the lunar mission. BMM kept its fingers crossed and hoped that the car would come soon. It took quite some time to reach the shop.  Rimanika and BMM quickly dumped the packages into the vehicle, jumped into the car and requested the driver to rush home because there was an important mission ahead!!!! Obviously he could not understand what BMM meant.

          BMM did not want to miss an important flight like the Grail mission. 

           Just 10 minutes left for the lift off! The driver took an u turn and drove home, Pedder Road was fortunately empty which is something unusual on a Saturday evening. Down Sophia College lane and there was heavy traffic on Breach Candy.  My God!

           We reached home at 6.35 p.m., ran into BMM's room and at once activated the computer and accessed Nasa TV. All the workers who are doing carpentry work at our flat, stopped banging and hammering left their instruments including the supervisor, Mohan and our driver, Ravi, came to BMM's room to witness the take off.. Yes, we could see the rocket ready to lift off.  BMM had finally made it!  Thank God.

            ``Range is a go for launch,'' the flight commentator Steve Agid announced.

            ``T-1 minutes. 20 secs-15-13-11-10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1-0. We have lift off,'' declared Agid.

            ``We have a very good flight. The first and second stages jettisoned on target,'' came the announcement.

            The Grail ---Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL)--was at last on its way to the moon. The much-awaited 496.2 million dollar lunar journey had started. The rocket, the 124-feet tall United Launch Alliance's  Delta 2, and the lift off was from launch pad 17B at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

             As against the normal four days to reach the moon, Grail will enter a three-and-a-half month trans-lunar cruise phase which will be a low energy trajectory.

             The crucial lunar orbit insertion will be on December 28,2011, the science phase will begin on March 8, 2012 and the mission will be decommissioned on May 29,2012. 

             SIGNIFICANCE OF THE MISSION.: What is its role. According to Nasa, Grail will unlock the mysteries of the moon hidden below its surface. This is why it known as the journey to the centre of the moon--the first of its kind. It will do so by creating the most accurate gravitational map of the moon to date, improving our knowledge of near-side gravity by 100 times and of the far side by 1000 times,''  it said.

             The high resolution map of the moon's gravitational field especially when combined with a compatible topographical field map, will enable scientists to deduce the moon's interior structure and composition and to gain knowledge into its thermal evolution--that is te history of the moon's heating and cooling, which opens the door to understanding its origin and development. ``Accurate knowledge of the moon's gravity will also be an invaluable navigational aid for future lunar spacecraft, according to Nasa.

             Finally, Grail will also help us to understand the broader evolutionary histories of the other rocky planets in the inner solar system--Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars. 

              The most important aspect of the programme is the MoonKam project about which BMM had written before. This will allow school children in the US and in some other parts of the world to participate in the mission by requesting for photographs of any part of the moon of their choice which they can use for their school project work. A good idea which BMM feels that other space faring nations should also emulate--including students in a space mission which will inspire them to study science,technology, engineering and mathematics. This will mould them into future space leaders.  

              All in all a very important and historical mission. God Speed and Good Wishes.            



Sunday, September 4, 2011

One year ago................September 5,2010.

        This blog, ``Beyond Moon and Mars,'' completes one year today---day which also celebrates Teachers' Day---September 5

        It was a Sunday evening and by sheer chance I logged on to this site when I was accessing data about the Apollo missions to the moon. I then named my new blog  ``Beyond Moon and Mars (BMM),'' reflecting my passion for space exploration. Why ``Beyond Moon and Mars?''  The reason is one now always thinks of flying beyond the moon!

        In this last one year BMM has covered almost every aspect this hi tech sector and initially BMM used to write daily, but lately the frequency has reduced because of other official committments. Whenever, there is an important launch, BMM now makes it a point to write a personal blog.

        This year there were two important space events---the 50th anniv of Yuri Gagarin's flight and the conclusion of Nasa's space shuttle era. BMM covered them in detail and a friend in Kerala responded by e mailing BMM stamps about Yuri Gagarin!

        All in all it has been pretty exciting writing the blog and BMM will continue do so.

        As launch commentators say before a lift off: ``God Speed and Good Wishes.''




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!