Uni­fy­ing Moon­shot

Chan­drayaan-2’s jour­ney was riv­et­ing and taught us how much can be done despite odds

The Times of India (New Delhi edition) - - An Epiphany Of Ideas -

Isro’s ef­fort to en­sure India be­came only the fourth na­tion to suc­cess­fully carry out a con­trolled land­ing on the surface of the moon is per­haps our most uni­fy­ing mo­ment in re­cent times. The last stages of the six week jour­ney to the lunar surface were a riv­et­ing watch. Eventually, Isro lost com­mu­ni­ca­tion with the lan­der (Vikram) a mere 2.1 km from the surface. But it would be in­ac­cu­rate to la­bel this mis­sion a fail­ure. The or­biter, one of three parts of the Chan­drayaan-2 stack, continues to func­tion. Over the next few years, this or­biter will keep send­ing back pic­tures that will form the ba­sis of sub­se­quent anal­y­sis.

The sight of Isro’s chair­man K Sivan break­ing down af­ter the lan­der lost con­tact with the ground sta­tions and Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi con­sol­ing him en­cap­su­lated the tri­als and tribu­la­tions of a re­mark­able in­sti­tu­tion. Against odds, Isro has made the small global space fra­ter­nity sit up and take no­tice. Run on a tight bud­get, with a church in a fish­ing vil­lage in Ker­ala serv­ing as the main of­fice for sci­en­tists in the 1960s, Isro has con­stantly evolved, taking on tougher chal­lenges. Chan­drayaan-2, its sec­ond moon mis­sion, was more com­plex than even the Mars Or­biter Mis­sion.

The run-up to Chan­drayaan-2 mis­sion was not smooth. A pro­posed Rus­sian col­lab­o­ra­tion did not work out. With hind­sight, this worked well for Isro as it had to strengthen its ca­pa­bil­i­ties for the mis­sion. The tim­ing of the moon mis­sion is ideal be­cause glob­ally moon landings have be­gun to evince more in­ter­est. Nasa has announced that the US will take greater in­ter­est through its Artemis Moon pro­gramme next year. An at­tempt by an Is­raeli team ear­lier this year did not meet with suc­cess dur­ing the land­ing stage. South Korea is ex­pected to soon join the race to land on the lunar surface.

Given this con­text, Isro needs to use the knowl­edge gained from Chan­drayaan-2 mis­sion to build on its early suc­cess. The launch ve­hi­cle, GSLV MkIII-M1 in this case, needs to be en­hanced to carry heav­ier loads. In the orig­i­nal plan for Chan­drayaan-2, the lan­der and rover (Pragyan) would have func­tioned for one lunar day, equiv­a­lent to14 earth days. Isro now needs to im­prove on this count by us­ing ra­dioac­tive heater units to last through a lunar night, some­thing the Chi­nese have suc­cess­fully done. As PM Modi said while en­cour­ag­ing the sci­en­tists, “We will need to cover more ground in the times to come.”

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