Chandrayaan-1: We Have Lift-off!

on Posted by Rajesh J Advani
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At 6:22am Indian Standard Time today, India's first unmanned mission to the moon successfully took off from India's satellite launch centre in Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh, 80km from Chennai.

The success of this mission, which will attain lunar orbit 15 days from now, will bring no little pride to our country. And yet there are people who question the very basis of the mission. "Do we really need it?" they ask. And the reasons they give for why this mission is a waste of time and money?
The money (386 crore) could have been better spent feeding the country's poor.

Other countries have already gone to the moon. What new can we learn?


First of all, this is an advancement of the country's technological prowess. As Dr K. Kasturirangan, chairperson of ISRO said when the Chandrayaan-I project was announced
It is not a question of whether we can afford it, it's whether we can afford to ignore it.

In dollar terms, the mission has cost India only US$80 Million. That's pocket-change when compared to NASA's Billion dollar space-probe budgets. And the returns will be great.

Antrix, the Indian Department of Space's commercial arm, earns valuable foreign exchange every year, by launching satellites for other countries, selling data captured by its satellites, and also selling hardware and software. This lunar mission will not only strengthen India's position in the commercial satellite launch sector, but will also give India more experience in the various aspects of space travel.

A mission to the moon - accomplished by only five other countries till date - will put India in the elite group of space-faring countries. So when humans do start visiting or living in space, India will not be waiting in line to be piggy-backed there. We'll be able to get to space on our own. And we'll probably be giving other countries a ride just like we did this time.

And as far as the question "What is there to learn?" goes, there's always something to learn. This particular mission hopes to capture the following information:

  • Map a 3-d atlas of the moon with a spatial and altitude resolution of 5-10 metres.
  • Get information about the distribution of various minerals on the moon

Apart from this, we also hope to get information on Helium-3 deposits, which will be useful for nuclear fusion research, and may be one of the answers to our energy problems.
Additionally, today's successful launch seems to have already cleared the hurdles towards government funding of our man person on the moon plans. There were earlier reports that the government was rethinking that mission because of the high cost.

All the attention that ISRO get out of all these missions might also help some of the brain-drain of scientists from India. I mean as of today, how many people you know actually want to become scientists working for the government? The idea of possibly working for something as glorious as your country's space program, can pretty motivating.

Of course, today's only been Stage 1, the easiest of all stages. India has been sending satellites into space for a long time now, and is so good at it makes money out of the exercise. The next couple of weeks will be really interesting, and will be the true test of Indian capability.

I'm not much of a believer but I think I'll have a chat with my friend just in case.

Update: has two good posts on the benefit of the mission - here and here.


Anonymous said...

Don't want to jinx it yet but hope u will continue writing... here