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Moonopoly shattered

india Updated: Dec 30, 2008 21:35 IST
BR Srikanth

What the Tata Nano is to the automobile industry, the Chandrayaan-I moon mission is to space exploration. It establishes India as the world’s lowest cost destination for satellite launches and space exploration, and this will have huge commercial spin-offs for Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).
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The unmanned lunar orbiter, which blasted off from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre, Sriharikota on October 22, is carrying on board instrumentation from ISRO and other international space agencies.

Chandrayaan Project Director Mylswamy Annadurai is thrilled. “We will be only 100 km above the moon and, so, be able to have a closer look at it than before.”

The mission has already met with some success — it has discovered traces of iron on the moon’s surface.

The global satellite launch market is estimated at $100 billion (Rs 4.8 lakh crore) annually and is dominated by NASA of USA, the European Space Agency (ESA), Japan and China. After the successful execution of the Chandrayaan mission, India can look forward to a larger slice of this pie as well.

International experts acknowledge this. “I know how difficult it is to conduct and operate a lunar mission and to have a great success like this on their first attempt is a testament to their (the Chandrayaan team) work,” said Dr Paul Spudis, Senior Lunar Scientist, Lunar & Planetary Institute, Houston.

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Dr Mylswamy Annadurai, 50, is a shy man, a trifle uncomfortable with the attention and adulation that he has been receiving of late. But the Project Director of Chandrayaan-1, India’s ambitious lunar orbiter project, is learning to cope with the arc lights that have followed him since the successful launch of his ‘baby’.

"It feels good that, for a change, the nation is recognising us — like the Twenty20 team — and treating us with so much adoration and attention. Our team has done wonderfully and I feel satisfied," he said between answering phone calls and packing his bag for a trip to Madurai and Chennai, to accept more accolades.

Annadurai joined Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) in 1982, and has long been considered a star within the organisation. As Mission Director, he successfully oversaw the success of the INSAT-2C, INSAT-2D, INSAT-3B, INSAT-2E and several other important ISRO projects.

But can a poor country like India afford such expensive projects?

“Today, India’s economy is held together by the INSAT system (all ATMs are linked through this satellite, our communications networks are supported by it). An orbiter of this class would have cost four-five times elsewhere (the project cost ISRO Rs 386 crore),” he said.

In the pipeline are Chandrayaan-II (a lander, rover venture scheduled for 2012) and Chandrayaan-III (a landing mission coupled with spacecraft returning to Earth with samples of lunar soil in 2015).