In a first ever joint space programme between India and the US, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has joined hands with the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) for launching a unique Moon Mineral Mapping(M3) mission by March 2008, thereby opening a new vista in joint scientific collaboration between the two countries in a big way.
Highlighting details of the unique project, termed as a 'giant step' by the world scientific research community, Dr Alok K Chatterjee, an Indian American project engineer in the world famous Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in NASA and who is closely associated with the multi-billion dollar space programme, said that the M3 project was aimed at performing detailed mineral mapping on the surface of moon not only for gaining greater scientific knowledge but also for their exploration, if possible for the use of mankind in the coming years.
Claiming that first such major joint scientific and space exploration by the two largest democracies in the world would open a new window of opportunity in diversified sectors, Dr Chatterjee who arrived in Kolkota on Sunday, after participating in an ISRO-NASA joint programme in Bangalore last week, said this collaborative effort between the two largest space and scientific organisations of the world would be a harbinger of future cooperation in several other future space missions.
Dr Chatterjee, who also worked for ISRO under President APJ Abdul Kalam for nine years in early 1980s before migrating to the US and joining NASA, said he was very confident that apart from sending several unmanned missions to space, "ISRO would be in a position to send a manned mission to moon by 2020".
"Even the NASA chief during his recent visit to ISRO had collaborated similar views," Dr Chatterjee said and hoped that there would be no dearth of funds for India's first manned mission to moon as, he felt, the Indian economy was strong enough to meet the demand.
Coming back to ISRO-NASA's joint M3 mission, Dr Chatterjee said under the project scientists of both the organisations had already developed one "unique instrument" which on reaching moon would reflect the photo-synthesis of all major mineral deposits both on the surface and under the surface and send back all necessary data to its earth station for processing and future explorations.
Asked about the total cost of the project which might run into several billion dollars, Dr Chatterjee said he was not aware of the financial aspects of the mission since he was only dealing with the technical aspects to ensure 'total success' of the mission.