Bengaluru: Indian space agency’s satellite director M Annadurai said, late former president APJ Abdul Kalam was highly influential in making India touch the lunar surface on its maiden mission to moon in November 2008.
Speaking at a seminar held in the memory of Kalam on Friday, he said, “when we made a presentation to President Kalam in 2004 on Chandrayaan-1 mission which was to orbit the moon at 100 km from its surface, he asked us why not land on it when your spacecraft is going that far all the way.”
The lunar project team, headed by Annadurai then, went back to the drawing board and included Kalam’s moon impact probe (MIP) in the mission, keeping in view the spacecraft’s weight and capacity, as it carried 11 scientific instruments on-board for various experiments while orbiting the moon.
“When we told Kalam that his wish has been fulfilled and the 34 kg MIP will land on the lunar surface, he was delighted and congratulated us for turning his wish into a reality,” Annadurai told 300 scientists, engineers and students in presence of Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar and other dignitaries.
Though Kalam could not be present at the Indian Space Research Organisation’s (ISRO) spaceport at Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh, when the moon mission was launched on October 22, 2008, he was excited to be at its satellite telemetry, tracking and command network (Istrac) in Bengaluru on November 14 when his “brain child” MIP descended and hit the lunar surface 25 minutes after it was separated from the unmanned spacecraft (Chandrayaan-1) in the lunar orbit.
The landing made India fourth country to accomplish a planned impact of a probe, which had the three colors of the national flag painted on its square shaped box.
Kalam, who was 11th president from 2002 to 2007, was with the space agency from 1969 to 1992 as a rocket specialist and piloted launch of early satellites.
Shanmuga Subramanian, the eagle-eyed citizen space scientist who found Vikram moonlander said on Tuesday that he took spotting it as a challenge when NASA couldn’t.
He said in an email interview to IANS: “It was something challenging as even NASA can’t find out so why can’t we try out? And that’s the thought that led me to search for Vikram lander.”
Subramanian, who works as an information technology architect, in his spare time looked through the images taken by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) camera on September 17 and spotted a debris from Vikram.
Those images were taken when the light during moon’s dusk was very harsh at the place where the moonlander crashed and the long shadows made the hunt for Vikram difficult, NASA and LRO said at that time.
LRO Project Scientist Noah Petro, to whom Subramanian emailed his finding, told IANS: “The story of this really amazing individual (who) found it, helped us find it, is really awesome.”
The Vikram moonlander was sent by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) aboard the Chandraayan 2 that orbited the moon.
Vikram was launched from Chandrayaan on September 6 in hopes of making a safelanding and exploring the moon’s surface. However, it lost contact with ISRO minutes before the scheduled landing and crashed.
Petro said: “This is the wonderful thing about our data. We released it for the world and anyone can use and he used it to make this discovery.”
Subramanian suggested a crowd-sourced citizen scientist movement to help space organisations.
“LRO’s data is a treasure trove. I would suggest students and others to help out NASA, ISRO and other space organisations by building a good database of LRO images with features like comparison etc.,” Subramanian told IANS.
“Currently we have to compare it manually (and I) wish someone can do more on that, with NASA’s scientists time crunched for their Moon missions,” he added.
Asked how he got interested, Subramanian said: “Space exploration is nothing new for me as I have been interested in space right from the scratch and watched ISRO’s rocket launches closely even managed to capture some of it on my YouTube channel.
“I don’t think Vikram lander would have made a such impact on the minds of the Indian public if it had landed successfully (but) since it was lost there was a lot of discussion in public forums as well as on my Facebook regarding what malfunctioned etc.
“The crash landing of Vikram made more people interested in it and it also got eventually hooked me, which lead to me searching NASA’s pic for nearly some 4-5 hours every night.”
Subramanian spoke of the social media world of space enthusiasts where intense discussions were taking place about the mystery of Vikram and which helped his quest.
“Initially there was lot of false positives I got (that were) corrected by Twitterati and one of the tweets led to me a Reddit forum where they had the exact intended landing location and the path of Vikram,” he said.
On being able to narrow down the area for his search, he said: “Though there was no data available about the path of Vikram lander, I eventually concluded it would have come from North Pole as one of the tweets from ‘cgbassa’ said Vikram has crossed the North Pole of the moon. And from ISRO’s live images, I made out it would have stopped short of around 1 km from the landing spot so it eventually led to me searching around 2 sq km around the landing area.”
That tweet was from CG Bassa, an astronomer with Astron, the Dutch radio astronomy institute.
After better pictures came from the LRO’s pass over the area in October and on November 11, when the light conditions improved, the LRO camera team scoured the area surrounding the spot where Subramanian had spotted a debris and found the impact spot of Vikram’s crash and other debris, the ASU said.
The impact site is located at 70.8810AoS, 22.7840AoE, at an elevation of 834 metres, it added. (IANS)
An unmanned Indian space probe successfully entered lunar orbit Tuesday, passing a crucial step towards a historic milestone for the country’s fledgling space program.
The arrival of the $141 million Chandrayaan-2 probe comes nearly a month after it was launched into space aboard India’s powerful Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle Mark Three rocket. The probe will orbit the moon for two weeks before its Vikram lander — named after Vikram Sarabhai, the scientist regarded as the “father” of India’s space program — will undock from the mothership and land on the moon’s South Pole.
It will then release a small rover dubbed Pragyan that will roam for 14 days, mapping the moon’s surface, conducting experiments to search for signs of water and assessing its topography and geology.
If the planned September 7 landing is successful, India will join the United States, Russia and China as the only nations to achieve a soft landing of a spacecraft on the moon. It will also become the first nation to attempt a controlled landing on the moon’s South Pole.
Although India was a relative latecomer to the space race, it has developed a reputation for conducting its space explorations at a fraction of the cost spent by countries like the United States. It first placed an unmanned spacecraft in lunar orbit in 2008, which helped confirm the presence of water on the lunar surface.
Among other goalposts India has set in the coming years is to put a space station in orbit, an astronaut in space by 2022, a robotic mission to Mars and a mission to explore the sun. (VOA)