Science makes India leaping to Red Planet

A small cuboid shaped spacecraft weighing little more than one tonne is the toast of Indian science in 2014 as the Mars Orbiter Mission of the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) becomes the first spacecraft in the history of mankind to reach the Red Planet in the first attempt.

Precisely at 07:17:32 hours on September 24, the 1337 kg probe, entered the Martian orbit. Within minutes, the Mars colour camera took the planet’s pictures that were released by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the world. The success of the spacecraft – realised with a shoe string budget of Rs 450 crore – catapulted Isro chairman K Radhakrishnan as one of the world top 10 scientists in 2014, as per a list prepared by “Nature,” a prestigious science journal.

Isro followed up the accomplishment with GSLV Mk III that carried a human crew module to the space. It is the first step towards putting an Indian in the space using an indigenous rocket and spacecraft. Though the human space flight may be several years away, the triumph towards the fag end of the year, coupled with first successful GSLV flight with indigenous cryogenic engine in January, helped ease the pressure on the space agency, which encountered several GSLV failures in the last two years.

An indigenous nuclear reactor in Rajasthan set up a world record when it became the best performing nuclear reactor in the last 20 years as it ran continuously for 747 days. In the process, the 220 MWe 5th unit of Rajasthan Atomic Power Station at Rawatbhatta not only beat a US reactor, but also became the second longest running nuclear power reactor in the history of nuclear energy.

In 2014, India became a partner in a major global science project when the government sanctioned Rs 1,300 crore as India's contribution to the Thirty Metre Telescope – an international astronomical observatory. Serendipitously the approval came on a day when Mars Orbiter Mission reached the Red planet’s orbit.

To be constructed at a cost of $ 1.47 billion, TMT will be located at Mauna Kea, Hawaii. Other members in the global consortium are the US, Canada, Japan and  China. After the Large Hadron Collider at the European Centre for Nuclear Research (CERN), which discovered the God Particle (Higgs Boson), it is the second major international science infrastructure project involving India.

Three Indian institutes  – Punjab Agriculture University, Ludhiana; National Research Centre on Plant Biotechnology (NRCPB), Delhi and Delhi University – were part of a global effort to map the genome of bread wheat, which may lead to faster development of improved wheat varieties with better yield in future.

While a cholera vaccine made by National Institute for Cholera and Enteric Diseases, Kolkata, was found successful in the phase-2 clinical trials, an indigenous clot buster developed by Institute of Microbial Technology, Chandigarh, received regulatory approvals for the phase-2 trials after its success in the first round.

Biologists at the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, and Delhi University discovered several new species of dancing and bush frogs from the Western Ghats.  
When Hudhud struck, the weathermen showed how good they are in tracking tropical cyclone, days in advance.

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