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Mangalyaan mission ends on 24th March-How ISRO proved it’s better than NASA

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By Harshmeet Singh

“History has been created today, we have dared to reach out into the unknown and have achieved the near impossible,” said the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi as he witnessed ISRO’s Mangalyaan enter the Mars’ orbit on 24th September 2014.

The unprecedented success of the Mars Orbiter Mission made India the first country to undertake a successful mars mission in its very first attempt.  With the Mangalyaan mission scheduled to end on March 24th, it would be worth taking a trip down the memory lane and revisiting the major accomplishments of our MoM.

How superior was the Mangalyaan?

Ever since Mangalyaan entered the Mars orbit, there have been innumerable comparisons with similar missions undertaken by other space agencies (mostly because we seem to be on the winning side in most aspects!). The most famous (and enjoyable) of these comparisons is that at Rs 7 per km, the entire mission’s cost was less than the total budget of Hollywood movie ‘Gravity’. The Mangalyaan took close to 298 days to reach the Mars orbit, suggesting at it wasn’t the fastest spacecraft to do so since European Space Agency’s Mars mission in 2003 took about 210 days to reach Mars.

Considering that the road to Mars has been marred with failures, Mangalyaan’s maiden success looks all the more impressive. Of the 51 mars mission attempts made so far by different countries, only 21 have been completely successful. The failed missions include the first attempts made by the USA, China, Japan and Russia.

Japan’s maiden attempt to reach Mars in 1998, Nozomi orbiter, failed to enter the Mars orbit owing to some electrical fault. One of the more famous failures in the Mars mission happened with NASA when its Mars Climate Orbiter converted into flames in the Mars atmosphere after a terrible confusion between the metric and the standard units. In 2011, China and Russia teamed up to send China’s Yinghuo-1 and Russia’s Phobos-Grunt to Mars on a Russian rocket. Both the spacecrafts didn’t succeed in leaving the Earth’s orbit.

Low cost! But how?

By far, the most impressive aspect of the Mangalyaan mission has been its low cost. It has often been compared to the exorbitant costs of MAVEN, NASA’s mars mission which entered the Mars orbit three days before the Mangalyaan. One of the major reasons behind Mangalyaan’s low costs as compared to MAVEN was the use of smaller rockets, made possible due to a much lighter scientific payload as compared to MAVEN (Mangalyaan’s pay load was close to 33 pounds as compared to MAVEN’s 143 pounds). The fast pace of work (just about 1 year) also added to low costs of the mission undertaken by ISRO. One of the major differentiating cost factors between the two missions is the much lower salaries paid to the ISRO engineers as compared to the specialists at NASA. ISRO’s annual budget is close to $1.2 billion as compared to NASA’s $17.7 billion, ESA’s $5.6 billion, Russia’s $7.9 billion and China’s $2.5 billion.

But the low cost of the mission also brought with it a number of constraints. For starters, it put a considerable limit on the number of scientific instruments it can carry into the Mars orbit. This is why ISRO chose a highly elliptical orbit for the spacecraft since it would require much lesser fuel. On the brighter side, ISRO is now ready with a new crop of rockets which are equipped with the capability of sending much heavier loads into the space in the future.

MoM

And along came the criticism too

Soon after ISRO launched the Mangalyaan in 2013, a number of experts took shot at the agency, questioning the need for such a mission. One of the most widely raised points was that since close to one fifth of India’s population still lacks basic amenities, wouldn’t this money have been better spent on their basic needs? Also, since NASA’s curiosity rover had already concluded that Mars’ environment doesn’t contain methane, what was the need of sending another Methane sensor onboard the Mangalyaan?

ISRO, on the other hand, maintained that it didn’t ask for any special grants for the mission and managed everything from within its annual budget. And if welfare schemes worth billions aren’t able to improve the conditions of poor, an additional $74 million wouldn’t have made any difference either.

The timings of the launch also came under scanner from different sections. A number of experts said that since ISRO’s erstwhile chief K Radhakrishnan was due to retire at the end of 2014, he forced the agency to undertake the mission at this time to attain personal glory. Had ISRO waited for a couple of years, it would have been able to use much superior rockets to launch the Mangalyaan, thus enabling it to carry heavier scientific instruments.

China’s failed Yinghuo-1 mission in 2011 is also believed to have been a major reason for ISRO’s urgency in undertaking the Mars Orbiter mission in 2013. Beating China in the race to Mars was enough inspiration for ISRO to take the plunge in haste. China, in fact, lauded it as the ‘Pride of Asia’ after the Mangalyaan entered the Mars orbit successfully.

Positive impact

ISRO maintained that it would easily recover the cost of the project through its commercial arm, Antrix. Since the success of Mangalyaan did wonders for the global reputation of ISRO, it expects to gain a number of contracts from countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America to help them with their launch vehicles. Antrix currently makes over 100 crore with outsourced contracts.

ISRO has always been critical of the stand held by many critics who say the Space research is a waste on time. But it is this space research and satellite technology that helps forecast devastating cyclones and save thousands of lives.

Mangalyaan 2 coming soon

Riding on the success of its maiden mission to Mars, ISRO is all set to launch Mangalyaan 2 in 2018. S. Shiva Kumar, ISRO’s satellite centre director recently said “We plan to launch a second mission to Mars in 2018, probably with a lander and rover, to conduct more experiments for which we have to develop new technologies. We will be able to take the Mars-2 mission after launching the second mission to the moon (Chandrayaan-2) in 2016 with our own lander and rover, which will help us develop a separate lander and rover for the red planet”

With ISRO’s confidence flying high, India can only look forward to much more glory in the coming years.

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Three astronauts return to Earth after staying at space station for five months

A Russian Soyuz spacecraft carrying Expedition 53 crew mates naming Randy Bresnik of NASA, Paolo Nespoli of European Space Agency (ESA) and Sergey Ryazanskiy of Roscosmos landed in Kazakhstan at 2.37 p.m. after spending five months a The International Space Station.

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Three astronauts landed on Earth after spending five months at space station.
Three astronauts landed on Earth after spending five months at space station. IANS
  • Three astronauts land in Kazakhstan
  • The astronauts spent nearly five months at The International pace Station
  • The astronauts ventured for three spacewalks

Washington, Dec 14, 2017: Three astronauts landed in Kazakhstan on Thursday after spending nearly five months at the International Space Station.

A Russian Soyuz spacecraft carrying Expedition 53 crewmates Randy Bresnik of NASA, Paolo Nespoli of European Space Agency (ESA) and Sergey Ryazanskiy of Roscosmos landed at 2.37 p.m. Kazakhstan time, NASA said.

During his time aboard the orbital complex, Bresnik ventured outside the space station for three spacewalks.

Along with NASA astronauts Mark Vande Hei and Joe Acaba, Bresnik lead a trio of spacewalks to replace one of two latching end effectors on the station’s robotic arm, Canadarm2.

They also lubricated the newly replaced Canadarm2 end effector and replaced cameras on the left side of the station’s truss and the right side of the station’s US Destiny laboratory.

Ryazanskiy conducted one spacewalk with fellow cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin in August to deploy several nanosatellites, collect research samples and perform structural maintenance.

Bresnik now has spent 150 days in space on two flights. Ryazanskiy now has 306 days in space on two flights. Nespoli has logged 313 days in space on his three flights.

The Expedition 54 crew continues operating the station, with Alexander Misurkin of Roscosmos in command.

The three-person crew will operate the station until the arrival of three new crew members on December 19, NASA said. (IANS)

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Ram Setu : Where Science meets Hindu religion, Science affirms but Congress Party denies

Science Channel affirms that Ram Setu was man made not natural, NASA released images

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Ram Setu
Ram Setu between India and Sri Lanka (Pic by NASA)
  • Science channel affirms that Ram Setu was man- made not natural
  • In 2007 Congress Party submitted an affidavit in court saying Ram Setu is a myth

An American science channel on Tuesday affirmed on the existence of Ram Setu, saying that there exist evidence suggesting that the bridge connecting India and Sri Lanka was man-made not natural.

The Discovery Communications-produced show, “Ancient Land Bridge”, quotes American archaeologists to affirm that 30-mile line between India and Sri Lanka is made up of rocks that are 7,000 years old, older than the sandbar supporting them, which is approx 4,000 years old. The video claims that the structure is man made, not natural, citing images from a NASA satellite. Interestingly, the carbon dating of beaches near Dhanushkodi and Mannar Island sync with the date of Ramayana.

Ram Setu in Ramayana
Ram Setu (Satellite image by NASA)

The description of Ram Setu in Ramayana

In ‘Yuddha Kanda’ of the Ramayana, building of Ram Setu has been described. Rama Setu took 5 days to build by under the supervision of architects Neel and Nala. It is believed that Ram Setu is made of a chain of limestone shoals. It is 30 Km Long and 3 Km Wide. It Starts from Dhanushkodi tip of India’s Pamban Island and ends at Sri Lanka’s Mannar Island. Sea in these areas is very shallow. In Ramayana it is mentioned that the bridge was built by stones and these stone which floated on water by touch of Nala & Neel.

Ram Setu
Pic credit : Promo released by the US-based Science Channel

Politics on Ram Setu

Ram Setu is the historical and archeological evidence of Ramayana. The new findings by NASA have already sparked a political debate in the country with BJP leaders questioning the Congress’ previous stand where the party had told the Supreme Court that there was no historical proof that Lord Rama had ever existed. Congress party made u-turn and claimed they never questioned existence of Lora Ram. But In 2005, the UPA-1 government had proposed a shipping canal project that would have dredged the area and damaged the formation on sea, referred to as the Ram Setu by Hindus. The project was thus challenged by the BJP in the apex court.

Responding on the new affirmations, Minister of State for Home Affairs Kiren Rijiju said, “This is what the BJP has been saying all along.” Firebrand BJP leader Subramanian Swamy said, “the US scientists said what was already know”. On Tuesday, Smriti Irani posted the trailer of the show on her Twitter account, saying, “Jai Shri Ram.”

Ram Setu is the national heritage of India and it must be preserved.

– by Shaurya Ritwik, Shaurya is Sub-Editor at NewsGram and writes on Geo-politcs, Culture, Indology and Business. Twitter Handle – @shauryaritwik

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NASA’s plan on getting Martian samples to Earth

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NASA brings Martian samples to Earth from Mars.
NASA brings Martian samples to Earth from Mars. IANS
  • NASA plans on getting Martian samples to Earth from Mars
  • To know if life existed anywhere other than on Earth

Washington, Dec 11: (IANS) NASA has revealed how it plans to bring back Martian samples to Earth for the first time with the help of its next rover mission to the Red Planet, Mars 2020.

After landing on Mars, a drill will capture rock cores, while a caching system with a miniature robotic arm will seal up these samples. Then, they will be deposited on the Martian surface for possible pickup by a future mission, NASA said.

“Whether life ever existed beyond Earth is one of the grand questions humans seek to answer,” said Ken Farley of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

“What we learn from the samples collected during this mission has the potential to address whether we’re alone in the universe,” Farley said.

Mars 2020 relies heavily on the system designs and spare hardware previously created for Mars Science Laboratory’s Curiosity rover, which landed in 2012.

Despite its similarities to Mars Science Laboratory, the new mission has very different goals – it will seek signs of ancient life by studying the terrain that is now inhospitable, but once held flowing rivers and lakes, more than 3.5 billion years ago.

To achieve these new goals, the rover has a suite of cutting-edge science instruments.

It will seek out biosignatures on a microbial scale.

An X-ray spectrometer will target spots as small as a grain of table salt, while an ultraviolet laser will detect the “glow” from excited rings of carbon atoms.

A ground-penetrating radar will look under the surface of Mars, mapping layers of rock, water and ice up to 10 metres deep, depending on the material.

The rover is getting some upgraded Curiosity hardware, including colour cameras, a zoom lens and a laser that can vaporise rocks and soil to analyse their chemistry, NASA said.

The mission will also undertake a marathon sample hunt.

The rover team will try to drill at least 20 rock cores, and possibly as many as 30 or 40, for possible future return to Earth, NASA said.

Site selection has been another milestone for the mission. In February, the science community narrowed the list of potential landing sites from eight to three.

All three sites have rich geology and may potentially harbour signs of past microbial life. But a final landing site decision is still more than a year away.

“In the coming years, the 2020 science team will be weighing the advantages and disadvantages of each of these sites,” Farley said.

“It is by far the most important decision we have ahead of us,” Farley said.

The mission is set to launch in July/August 2020. (IANS)