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US books moon ride, denies India shuttle trip

THE INDO-US ties are under a lunar spell. First, a deal is signed between Nasa and Isro to carry two US payloads on Chandrayaan-1, India's first unmanned moon mission. Second, an apology from Nasa for the US' tech sanctions. Nasa administrator Michael Griffin signed an MoU with Isro chairman G. Madhavan Nair in Bangalore on Tuesday. Two US instruments ? a mini-synthetic aperture radar and moon mineralogy mapper ? will be on board.

india Updated: May 10, 2006 01:21 IST

THE INDO-US ties are under a lunar spell. First, a deal is signed between Nasa and Isro to carry two US payloads on Chandrayaan-1, India's first unmanned moon mission. Second, an apology from Nasa for the US' tech sanctions.

Nasa administrator Michael Griffin signed an MoU with Isro chairman G. Madhavan Nair in Bangalore on Tuesday. Two US instruments — a mini-synthetic aperture radar and moon mineralogy mapper — will be on board.

After the deal, Griffin, the first Nasa chief to visit India in three decades, regretted the technological sanctions on Isro centers. "I am sorry about the past," he said. "But I would take forth a good word about Indian space capabilities."

During his two-day visit, Griffin will visit the VSSC in Thiruvananthapuram and the Satish Dhawan Space Centre at Sriharikota — two space facilities which, ironically, still figure on the US' technology embargo list.

Griffin and Nair said they were willing to share "hi-tech knowledge", but there was a damper. Nasa cannot train an Indian astronaut for a flight onboard the US space shuttle. "There's no seat... (for) the next four years," Griffin said.

Meanwhile, the two US devices that will hitch a ride on Chandrayaan-I — India’s first scientific orbiter scheduled for launch in early 2008 — are a mini synthetic aperture radar (Mini SAR) and moon mineralogy mapper (M3). The first is designed and built by the Applied Physics Laboratory of Johns Hopkins University and funded by Nasa, while the M3 will be built by Brown University and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory of Nasa. Chandrayaan-I, which weighs 525 kg, will be hoisted into space by an indigenous Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle from Satish Dhawan Space Centre at Sriharikota, off the Bay of Bengal.

Deal done, Dr Griffin said: “It is my hope and belief that as we extend the reach of human civilisation throughout the solar system, the United States and India will be partners on many more technically challenging and scientifically rewarding projects. The Nasa is honoured to be a participant in the Indian lunar mission, being conducted about 40 years after humans saw the moon up close for the first time.”

First Published: May 10, 2006 01:21 IST