‘The moon is better than any space station’

November 8th, 2008 - 11:17 am ICT by IANS  

ISROChennai, Nov 8 (IANS) Even as Chandrayaan-1, India’s first unmanned spacecraft to the moon, enters the lunar orbit Saturday, one Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) scientist says the moon is well on its way to becoming the best international space station.”It will be better than any artificial space station”, said P. Sreekumar, head of the space astronomy and instrumentation division at the ISRO satellite centre.

“The moon has resources,”Sreekumar told IANS in an interview.

“To any man-made space station, everything has to be carted from Earth,” he said.

“If oxygen is available from the silicates on moon (silicon oxide), an oxygen production factory can be set up there. Titanium can be mined and brought back to Earth.”

Depending on the fuel, “there can be a factory on the moon for future rocket engines,” he said.

Chandrayaan-1 is, however, not directly looking at finding helium-3 on the moon, he explained.

Helium-3, seen as a good fusion reactor fuel, has to be extracted from moon dust by heating it to temperatures higher than 600 degrees Celsius. One kilogram of helium-3, when burned in combination with 0.67 kg of deuterium (an isotope of hydrogen), yields 19 megawatt-years of energy. However, ISRO points out, “The amount of helium-3 on the moon is yet to be quantified.”

“The moon is an ideal short- term location for testing, planning and training for greater space journeys,” Sreekumar said. “It is not too far, not too close. Moon is just about 384,000 km from Earth. It is a reachable distance; at the same time, it is outside Earth’s various atmospheric influences.”

The US is planning to set up sufficient facilities on the moon for it to serve as a “launching pad” for future journeys to Mars. India, too, has a Mars mission on ISRO’s to-do list.

“We do need to build capacity to work on the moon,” Sreekumar emphasised.

According to science journals, human entrepreneurship will ensure greenhouses in space by 2020.

Experiments are under way in harsh environments like the Canadian Arctic on how to set these up. Such experiments are also under way in high-altitude areas of India, in the rarefied air of Ladakh. Nutrition experiments are under way deep inside the womb of the Nilgiri Hills. Indian researchers are looking at growing stem cells under zero gravity.

IMS I, the Indian satellite launched in April 2008, is already testing crystal growth and bone material’s strength on nano platforms in space. The next Indian satellite is likely to be carrying out an experiment to test the influence of space on living tissue.

The moon is being looked at by ISRO scientists “slightly differently from the people who are looking at it (now). We’re looking at the moon very systematically,” M. Annadurai, project director for Chandrayaan-1, told reporters at the beginning of India’s moon mission. “We’re going to make a repository of the whole moon and its contents.”

Scientists expect data from Chandrayaan-1 to help create the most detailed chemical map of the moon and comprehensive terrain maps. “Chandrayaan-1 is a chemistry mission,” Sreekumar reiterated.

“We will look at very weak matter, of very low density. We will look for volatile elements. See if we can detect radon,” he said.

Radon is created by decay of uranium and may have seeped through the crevices on to the lunar surface or can be detected a few metres below the surface.

“We have just started the exercise,” Sreekumar said. “We have completed our (ISRO’s) primary objective - remote sensing and communications.

“We are now beginning to focus on new areas of space science. This is the right time to focus on the solar system and on exploring it. Studying the origin and evolution of the moon is the first step.” The moon is the only natural satellite of Earth.

India’s vehicle to the moon Chandrayaan-I was blasted off Oct 22 on board the 316-tonne polar satellite launch vehicle (PSLV-C11) from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre at Sriharikota spaceport, about 80 km north of Chennai on India’s east coast.

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