Lunar ambitions

The termination of the Chandrayaan-I mission by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has caused disappointment to the scientific and technical community and the people at large who had taken rightful pride in the achievements of the mission. ISRO abandoned it 312 days after it was launched last October, though it was expected to have an active life of two years. The loss of radio contact with the lunar probe last week was the breaking point, though technical problems had started plaguing it from May. The star sensors that maintain its orientation had started malfunctioning, forcing it to rely on standby support systems. Other control systems had also been affected. But it continued working, as seen by a joint experiment undertaken with a US spacecraft last fortnight, before the power supply units, according to ISRO, finally failed because of high radiation in the lunar atmosphere.

In spite of the premature end, the mission has made important contributions to India’s expertise in space flights and understanding of the moon. According to ISRO, it had accomplished 95 per cent of its objectives, through collection of valuable data from the moon. Apart from sending high resolution images of varied lunar terrains, it provided information about minerals under the lunar surface, like iron, calcium and silicon. While the data collected in over 3,400 orbits around the moon will be very useful, an analysis of the reasons for the failure of some systems will be more so. Setbacks and failures in space exploration projects are common. India too has had its share, as other countries which are ahead of it in the field have had. The lessons learnt from the Chandrayaan experience and the confidence gained from it will help the engineers and scientists to avoid similar or other  failures in future. Chandrayaan-I is only the first phase of India’s lunar exploration project. But Chandrayaan-2 will land a robot on the moon’s surface, and a manned space flight are in the works.

ISRO has been criticised for not making timely disclosures of the problems that afflicted the spacecraft. The agency’s leadership should keep this in mind in future endeavours. What has been achieved in any case is great and inspirational. The setback does not diminish the value and importance of the project which launched the country into the space-faring club of advanced countries. The eclipse will soon pass.

Liked the story?

  • 0

    Happy
  • 0

    Amused
  • 0

    Sad
  • 0

    Frustrated
  • 0

    Angry