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Reaching for the moon

The launch date of Chandrayan I mission is set, but project director M. Annadurai isn’t biting his nails, reports Satyen Mohapatra.

india Updated: Dec 21, 2007 23:03 IST
Satyen Mohapatra
Satyen Mohapatra
Hindustan Times

On the shoulders of M. Annadurai, lies a make-or-break burden that could, depending on the outcome, create history. The man who went to one of the smallest schools in his native Kothavady village near Coimbatore is now preparing to send India’s first mission to the Moon.

The momentous date is drawing near, with Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) announcing an April 2008 launch for the prestigious Chandrayan I.

Annadurai is the project director for mission, a first for India.

The spacecraft carries eleven payloads of which five are from India and six are from the US, Europe and Bulgaria It will be launched onboard India`s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle.

On D-Day, the lift-off button will be pressed at his instructions.

For Annadurai, space operation is second nature, as he has spent more time being involved in India’s space missions than on any other job.

Having obtained his masters degree in engineering from PSG College of Technology, Coimbatore, he joined ISRO in 1982.

During his nearly 25 years of work, he has been spacecraft operations manager for IRS-1 A in 1988, IRS 1B in 1989, INSAT-2A in 1992, INSAT 2B in 1993. No wonder, ISRO homed in on him for India’s most prestigious space project ever.

As associate project director, he was responsible for the first Indian communication satellite built exclusively to serve the educational sector launched in 2004 — EDUSAT.

So when the time came to pick the man for Mission Moon, ISRO chairman Gopalan Madhavan Nair knew whom to trust.

Annadurai is the recipient of the Hariom pretit Vikram Sarabhai Research Award for his outstanding contribution to systems analysis and space systems management (2004).

He is also the recipient of a citation from ISRO for his contribution to the INSAT systems mission management (2003) and Team Excellence award for his contribution to the Indian space programme (2007).

Annadurai is thrilled about his task at hand, not nervous. “One of the interesting features of this remote sensing mission is that we will be able to have a closer look at the Moon orbiting in a polar orbit just 100 km above. We cannot place a satellite this close to Earth because of the thick atmosphere and the strong pull of gravity. On the moon, there is only a tenuous atmosphere and its gravity is one sixth of the Earth’s.”

Annadurai is busy assembling and integrating the mission. “All the parts and systems are ready and the payloads are coming in one by one. The spacecraft will orbit the Moon for nearly two years.”