For twenty minutes, Indian space scientists had their hearts in their mouths. And then it was time for jubilation.
After some delicate manoeuvring, the lunar probe switched orbits and Chandrayaan-I began circling the moon.
It was a few minutes past 5 pm, and a defining moment that marked the success of India’s first lunar mission.
“This will be written in the history of Indian space in golden letters,” said an elated ISRO chairman G. Madhavan Nair. “It was perfect, all the operations were completed with precision even though we are doing it for the first time. This is a historic moment for us.”
The operation, the most crucial manoeuvre since the launch of the orbiter on October 22, involved a gradual reduction in its cruising speed and a gentle nudge into a zone known as the moon’s sphere of influence (about 40,000 km from the lunar surface).
The commands for this complex process were beamed from the Indian Space Research Organisation’s Telemetry, Tracking and Command Network (ISTRAC) at Bangalore. Over the next couple of days, space scientists will further trim Chandrayaan-I’s orbit.
The 30-kg Moon Impact Probe, with the Indian tricolour painted on it, will crash into the lunarscape on November 15. Then the systems will be switched on one by one.
“We are on the dot. Our baby is set to reach its home soon,” said Project Director M. Annadurai.
At the control room in ISTRAC, as anxiety gave way to jubilation, ISRO joined an elite list of just six space organisations to hoist an orbiter to the moon. The men behind the mission munched son papdi (a popular north Indian sweetmeat) and walked away with miniature souvenirs of the spacecraft.
It will be work as usual on Monday, said Nair. “We have four more missions to get on with this year.”