India is finally set to send an unmanned mission to outer space. This mission is called CHANDRAYAAN-1(a vehicle to reach the moon), which will be sent to the moon. The spacecraft is currently at the Indian Space Research Organization in Bangalore and will be moved to Sriharikota for the take-off on October 22. ISRO has also confirmed the meteorological conditions required for its smooth launch. It is a great achievement for India, yet it seems that our political leaders are less than interested in it. So far, neither an appraisal, nor best wishes have been conveyed to our scientists.

ISRO talks about the mission as follows: “In the past few years, there has been a renaissance with regard to lunar exploration. Many countries and international space agencies, including the European Space Agency (ESA), Japan, China, the US and Russia have undertaken or in the process of undertaking unmanned exploratory missions to the moon. These missions intend to seek answers to some of the fundamental questions that concern the moon. India’s Chandrayaan-1 is an integral part of that renewed interest of the international scientific community about the moon.”

This mission’s launch vehicle is a Modified Version of Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle [PSLV-XL]. Its most important equipment is the Moon Impact Probe (MIP). The MIP, which weighs 29 kg and sits like a hat on top of Chandrayaan-1, has been built by the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre, Thiruvananthapuram. The total mass of the equipment estimates to 523 kilograms, and it requires a power of 750 watts. Other important equipments included in this spacecraft are CIXS-2, SARA, SIR-2 and others. CIXS-2 is Chandrayaan 1’s Imaging X-Ray spectrophotometer and it has UK, Finland and France involved in it. SARA is the Sub keV Atom Reflecting Analyser, an instrument funded by Sweden and Switzerland and SIR-2 is the Near Infra Red Spectrometer with Germany and Poland involved in its creation. The total cost rounds up to be Rs. 3.8 billion which includes 5 equipments from India and 6 equipments funded by foreign countries.

All these equipments will together help in mapping the Moon in visible, infrared and X-ray wavelengths to determine the chemistry and mineralogy of the lunar surface, thus intending to create a 3-D atlas of lunar surface. The craft will search for surface and sub surface ice. The scientists also hope to discover helium-3, a potential source of alternative energy.

The landing of this space craft is quite complex. After Chandrayaan-1 reaches the lunar orbit at an altitude of 100 km, ISRO will give commands to it to re-orient and eject the MIP, which has a motor on board. This motor will help reduce the MIP’s velocity to 75 metres a second. As the MIP descends to the moon’s surface, its video-camera will take pictures of the lunar surface. These pictures will help ISRO to decide where to land Chandrayaan-2’s rover. The MIP’s altimeter will measure its altitude from the moon every second of its journey towards the moon. The mass spectrometer will sense the moon’s atmospheric constituents as it keeps falling and crashes on the moon. All this data will be sent to Chandrayaan-1 till the MIP crashes on the moon. Chandrayaan-1, in turn, would beam all the data to the earth.

All in all, this mission is in itself a great achievement. Yet, as compared to all other missions sent to outer space by man, a mission to the moon is just the first step. Other countries and institutions like NASA have already sent space crafts to Mars, Saturn, Jupiter and even to the Sun! It is not that we lack the intelligence or the capability to design an extraordinary mission. What we lack are the finances and the encouragement. We must really ask ourselves why a country, having so many millionaires in an emerging economy, still lags behind in scientific development just because of the constraint of capital.

Shambhavi Sharan

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