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After moon, it’s mission Mars

The successful launch of our lunar mission marks the beginning of new initiatives to study other celestial bodies of the solar system — Mars, asteroids and comets, reports BR Srikanth. India's checklist for greatness

india Updated: Oct 23, 2008 10:17 IST
BR Srikanth

There was no uncorking of champagne, no historic poses for the cameras, no after-launch parties, no grand statements.

Seconds after India’s moon rocket rode a blaze of flame into the dawn sky from Sriharikota spaceport, a gaggle of reserved, mostly south Indian scientists at Mission Control on this Bay of Bengal island pumped fists, briefly hugged each other, flashed a thumbs-up sign to the media, shared a meal and travelled back to their facilities across south India.

<b1>“We met for a mission review and later shared a meal. That’s all,” said Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre Director K Radhakrishnan. "The Chairman has left for Bangalore, and we are heading back to our places (of work).”

“I am back at work in Bangalore at nine tomorrow morning,” Chandrayaan-I project director Mylaswamy Annadurai told HT.

By dusk, the Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft and its mother ship — the workhorse Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle — were orbiting the earth, gathering pace to free themselves from earth’s gravity and slingshot themselves to the moon.

Chandrayaan-I is scheduled to reach its orbit 100 km from the Moon (about 3, 86,000 km from earth) on November 8, and drop the Moon Impact Probe, with the Indian tricolour painted, on it a week later.

The launch marked the beginning of new initiatives to study other celestial bodies of the solar system — Mars, asteroids and comets. These efforts would coincide with plans to send an Indian into space by 2015.

Addressing his colleagues, Indian Space Research Organisation chairman Gopalan Madhavan Nair called the launch a “historic moment”.

“We have started our journey to the Moon and the first step has gone off perfectly well," he said. "It’s a remarkable performance by the launch vehicle and every parameter was on the dot.”

India's next target: Mars, the 4th planet from the sun and more than 146 times further from the earth than the moon.
“Mars is the next natural destination," Nair told reporters. "We’ve just started planning for it and are looking for proposals from our scientific community to design instruments for an orbiter to the red planet.”

Nair also spoke about Chandrayaan-II, a Rs 425 crore joint Indo-Russian mission, planned for 2012. “The lander (a clutch of instruments that will land on the Moon) will be designed and made by Russia, while we will design other experiments," he said. "If we have some more space, then we will invite international teams.”

Wednesday’s flight of the 316-tonne polar satellite launch vehicle (PSLV-C11) from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre was a dream come true for about 1,000 space scientists and technologists.

The flawless flight was preceded by some anxious moments: Overcast skies, a nagging problem with the rocket fuel as it was loaded on to the rocket during the countdown.

“We lost almost all hope of making a launch on Wednesday morning due to inclement weather," said Nair. "To our luck, the rain gods and the clouds kept away."