India’s moon mission: nine years in the landing

November 14th, 2008 - 6:49 pm ICT by IANS  

Bangalore, Nov 14 (IANS) When India’s first moon impact probe (MIP) lands on the lunar surface Friday night, it will be the culmination of a nine year effort - from mooting of the idea of an Indian scientific mission to moon in 1999 to placing the 35 kg probe on a pre-determined location on the celestial body, about 384,000 km away from the Earth.The touching down of the 375 mm x 375 mm x 470 mm MIP, a honeycomb structure carrying a radar altimeter, a video imaging system and a mass spectrometer, comes 50 years after the first man-made object landed on the lunar surface.

The credit for the first landing (hard landing) goes to the former Soviet Union whose Luna 2 touched base on Sept 12, 1959.

The other super power of the cold war days, the United States, failed in its first attempt to land its probe on the moon three years later. Ranger 4 crashed on the moon on April 23, 1962.

Ranger 6, however, made up for it on Jan 30, 1964. But its television failed. Within six months, Ranger 7 not only made a successful landing but also sent the first close up television pictures of the lunar surface.

Three of Soviet Union’s Luna moon probes crash landed on the lunar surface in 1965. Luna 5 on May 9, Luna 7 on Oct 4 and Luna 8 on Dec 3. In between Luna 6 had missed the moon by a whopping 160,000 km.

Earlier on Jan 26, 1962, the United States’ Ranger 3 had missed the moon by 36,793 km.

The idea of an Indian scientific mission to the moon was first mooted in 1999 during a meeting of the Indian Academy of Sciences. The Astronautical Society of India carried forward the idea in 2000.

Soon after, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) set up the National Lunar Mission Task Force which concluded that ISRO has the technical expertise to carry out an Indian mission to the moon.

In April 2003 about 100 eminent Indian scientists in the fields of planetary and space sciences, earth sciences, physics, chemistry, astronomy, astrophysics and engineering and communication sciences discussed and approved the Task Force recommendation to launch an Indian probe to the moon.

Six months later, in November, the Indian government gave the nod for the mission.

ISRO named the mission Chandrayaan-1 and successfully launched it on Oct 22, 2008 on a journey of over 384,000 km to orbit the lunar surface at a distance of 100 km for the next two years to understand the mysteries of the earth’s only natural satellite.

Some of the landmarks in the moon probe:

Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) used his new invention, the telescope, to observe mountains and craters on the lunar surface.

The first man-made object to reach the moon was the unmanned Soviet probe Luna 2 in September 1959.

Luna 9 was the first probe to soft land on the moon in February 1966 and transmit pictures from the lunar surface.

The first robotic lunar rover to land on the Moon was the Soviet Lunokhod 1 in November 1970.

The first human to land on the moon was Neil Armstrong of the United States on July 20, 1969.

So far, the last man to walk on the moon was Eugene Cernan, also of the US, in December 1972.

Moon samples brought back to earth by three Russian Luna missions - 16, 20, and 24 in 1970, 1972 and 1974; and the US Apollo missions - 11, 12 and 14 through 17 between 1969 and 1972.

The European Space Agency launched European spacecraft SMART-1 on Sep 27, 2003 to survey the lunar environment and create an X-ray map of the moon.

Japan sent its lunar orbiter Kaguya (Selene) on Sep 14, 2007 for observing the distribution of elements and minerals on the lunar surface, study of lunar topography, surface composition, magnetic field and lunar and solar terrestrial environment.

China’s lunar probe called Chang’e took off on Oct 24, 2007 to map the lunar surface, measure content and density of lunar soil and explore the environment of the Moon.

India launched Chandrayaan-1 on Oct 22, 2008 for simultaneous photogeological, mineralogical and chemical mapping of the lunar surface.

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