India joins lunar race at time of renewed interest in moon

October 17th, 2008 - 3:40 pm ICT by IANS  

Bangalore, Oct 17 (IANS) With the maiden launch of unmanned moon mission Chandrayaan-1 Oct 22 from spaceport Sriharikota, about 80 km from Chennai, India joins the lunar race in quest of space supremacy and its place in the elite club of space-faring nations, at a time when there’s renewed global scientific interest in the moon.After a hiatus of over three decades, the celestial body has aroused interest among space scientists the world over to unravel the mystery behind its formation and evolution as the earth’s only natural satellite.

After the race between the US and the erstwhile Soivet Union in 1960s and 1970s to ‘conquer’ the moon, the interest was rekindled in September 2003 when the European Space Agency (ESA) launched its lunar mission SMART-1.

SMART (Small Missions for Advanced Research in Technology) entered the lunar orbit in November 2004. Its mission ended when it crashed on the moon in September 2006 after conducting its experiments.

Japan and China launched their respective moon missions - Chang’e and Kaguya - in September and October 2007.

The Indian Academy of Sciences started planning a lunar mission in 1999 and roped in the Astronautical Society of India in 2000.

The ambitious project started with the setting up of a national lunar mission task force by the state-run Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). The country’s top scientists and technologists assessed the feasibility of such a mission, its objectives and configuration required.

“The task force recommended that an Indian mission to the moon was worthwhile in view of our domain expertise in space technology. About 1,000 scientists held brainstorming sessions on the scientific objectives of the mission, instruments to be developed, launch vehicle and spacecraft building,” ISRO director S. Satish told IANS at the organisation’s headquarters here.

The need to set up a Deep Space Network (DSN) station in India to communicate with the lunar orbiting spacecraft was envisaged, with a provisional budgetary estimate.

A peer group of about 100 scientists, representing diverse fields of planetary and space sciences, earth sciences, physics, chemistry, astronomy, astrophysics and engineering and communications sciences discussed the study report of the task team in April 2003.

“As recommended by the report, it was unanimously decided that India should undertake the lunar mission, especially in view of the renowned interest on moon with many similar missions planned worldwide in the new millennium,” Satish recalled.

The mission will also provide the thrust to basic science and engineering research, including new challenges to the space agency to go beyond the geo-stationary orbit.

The government approved the mission in November 2003, with a view to realising the goal of harnessing the science payloads, lunar craft and the launch vehicle, besides ground support systems such as DSN.

“The project will also help bring young talents to fundamental research. Academia and research institutions, including university scientists, will find the participation intellectually rewarding,” Satish affirmed.

“The moon has again become the prime target for exploration and there is rejuvenated interest. All the major space-faring nations started planning missions to explore the moon and to utilise moon as a potential base for space exploration,” the official added.

The scientific and mission objectives are to probe the origin and evolution of the moon, understand the mineralogy and presence of Helium-3, a relatively clean fuel for future generation nuclear reactors.

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