5 pm Nov 05, 2013
India's mission to Mars
Five Years after India successfully landed on the Moon; the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has sent a very ambitious mission to the Mars. With this launch, India will join an elite club of six nations, which dared to journey to the Mars. Of the Six, only the USA, European Space Agency and Russia succeeded. India’s date with the Red Planet has generated a huge interest across the World and signifies India’s continued supremacy in the Space. Join a live web chat with Deepa Balakrishnan at 5 PM, today.
6 questions answered
- Though India intends to join an elite club of countries, what is the benefit of spending 450 crores on this project for the common man of our country? Asked by: rsg
- Deepa Balakrishnan Well, that's a tough choice, but one argument is that for Isro, 450 crore is not a big amount. It is able to earn significantly high revenues. And while there may not be direct benefits to the common man today, there is also the concern that we won't have the answers to many questions in science that we may desperately need tomorrow. For instance, if we can understand how it is that Mars lost its atmosphere - it's widely believed Mars had an atmosphere once - we can understand what it is we desperately need to do to protect earth's atmosphere. There are important lessons here. It is widely believed, for instance, that the moon has vast quantities of helium-3, a possible source of energy. We all know that energy and fuels on earth are fast depleting. If we can find, in future, maybe 20 years from now, some way of mining helium 3 and bringing it to earth, we could solve the energy crisis we could possibly be facing for centuries together. The quest and excitement of science has always been to explain the unknown. And unless we can explain it, it will remain unknown! As UR Rao, former Isro chairman, said in a recent interview -- 500 years ago, explorers took 8 months to go to Australia. Today we can do it in 8 hours. Certainly we can't complain that discovery was unnecessary!
- Is mars mission so important when we do not have simple toilets for home use, ie w/o consuming too much water. Waste of public money...we cant even make fighter planes or passenger planes. Asked by: kpvidya1999
- Deepa Balakrishnan Interesting coincidence - We are just working on a report related to shortage of toilets. And there is an effort to see how we can use space technology to build toilets that require minimum water. The technology will never actually go waste. Any technology developed will be useful. For instance, the technology we developed to make the spacecraft autonomous -- Mars Orbiter will take 20 minutes to send a signal, and another 20 minutes to receive a signal from the control station -- so a time-lag of 40 minutes. Until then, in case of any crisis, this spacecraft has to work independently in the absence of a direction from the control room. It has to be a smart satellite. And this technology will doubtless be used in navigation satellits and remote sensing satellites from now on. And we desperately need better communication systems in navigation, in sectors like defence, and disaster management. We have made one fighter plane from scratch - LCA. We are currently working on a passenger plane. We will, hopefully, get there soon. But the business of aviation - of building planes - is different. There are many other factors involved in that. But you right, we cannot not do it.
- Can you provide more information on the sensing capabilities of the Mangalyaan ? Asked by: Vivek Narayan
- Deepa Balakrishnan There are five instruments on board. One is to take high-resolution pictures. The second one to map minerals on Mars. A third one to check for the quantity - how much or how little - of water, as well as the form in which water molecules exist. A fourth one will try to analyse what kind of atmosphere once existed on Mars and how it lost its atmosphere -- it is widely believed Mars once had an atmosphere. So are there lessons for us on earth from this? And what are they? A fifth instrument will check for the existence of methane. Now, methane is supposed to be an indicator of life, in some form, that existed on Mars once upon a time. However, ancient. If that is discovered, then the attempt will be to see what kind of methane it is - biological or geological. These again will help understand Mars better -- see if it can be a possible human settlement later. Now, Nasa's Curiosity has said there is no methane on Mars. Isro believes that could well be true only of the terrain around where CUriosity itself is placed -- there could be methane elsewhere, so Isro's sensors are geared to check for that. Just as Chandrayaan - though it was the 70th or so mission to the moon -- was able to detect water molecuels -- a discovery that was later confirmed by later missions -- Isro hopes it can discover methane when other missions haven't been able to. Only, discoveries don't happen all the time with science -- you have to be patient, and I guess, lucky! But half the excitement is in the quest for it, and the ability to build the technology to sniff out for signs of life if ever.
- Kudos & salute to the ISRO team for achieving this feat. Proud moment. What effect or impact will it have on our country in the near future besides imparting an elitist status to it ? Asked by: Neeta
- Deepa Balakrishnan The use of the Mars craft for the common man can't really be known immediately. No scientific mission can give out instant results. The hope is that in future, it can help us find some answers to some of the mysteries of this planet. Yes it's an "elitist" status if you want to call it that -- in that, we will join an elite group of nations that are exploring Mars. But we are not going there for nothing. The instruments on board are to do important experiments, as explained just now, in a previous reply. Also, the technology Isro has developed to achieve this "smart spacecraft" as it's called -- is not going waste. It will certainly be useful for other navigation and remote sensing satellites in future.
- Will the successful mission of mangalyaan trigger a space war with China or merely prove our superiority in space research? Asked by: Satish Kumar
- Deepa Balakrishnan Well, we are superior in some ways, and lagging behind in others. For instance, China has developed far better rockets (launch vehicles), in that area, we are losing to China. We have of course achieved glory in scientific missions. But if we are not able to come up with a reliable Geostationary rocket (GSLV) soon, we will lag further behind. The fact is, our GSLV rocket has failed many times. And for us to carry out a successful manned mission -- which is the next logical frontier to cross after a Mars mission -- we need to perfect the GSLV. We also need to perfect other technologies like a crew escape technology - in case of a crisis during launch, etc. Former ISRO chairman Madhavan Nair in fact, said in a recent interivew, that the manned mission isn't getting the require push, while China is looking at establishing a space station in about 6/ 7 years from now. We could take a few years to catch up on that front. But on sceintific missions that conduct experiments and find answers, we are ahead. At least, we're not completely left behind in the space race. But fingers crossed. It will take 9 months for the Mars Orbiter to reach Mars and six more months to conduct its experiments. It cannot be deemed a complete success until then.
- The comparison to Bollywood films and the mission to Mars was uncalled for. India is uncalled for.... Moreover the reporting was shallow. No mention of global collaboration. No mention of the engineering challenges overcome by Indian engineers.. Repeated coverage of visit to Tirumala. This is personal belief, and I am not sure what you were reporting. Are you producing a bollywood film Asked by: Jasmit Singh
- Deepa Balakrishnan There is global collaboration only in Isro taking Nasa's help (of the Jet Propulsion Lab) to track the spacecraft and perhaps help in getting data at a later point. Otherwise, this mission is entirely Isro's. One of the reasons for that is, there wasn't enough time. The project was approved sometime in 2011 and in 18 months, five instruments had to be decided upon, and put together. This was the major challenge for Isro - to put together a long-haul project in such a short time. The launch window was October-November 2013, and if missed, another mission is only possible in 2016. These were the challenges we talked about -- how it was possible to make a 'smart' spacecraft as it is called, in such a short time. 'Smart,' because the spacecraft has to act and respond autonomously to some degree, take command of its own steering, its own navigation until signals can be transmitted back and forth, which will take 40 minutes in all. This in fact, is the biggest challenge overcome, besides setting up instruments and monitoring facilities over the last 18 months. We have covered this over the past week, in a series of reports in the run-up to the launch today. Of course, we were covering what the Isro chairman was doing yesterday and today, as a matter of fact. It is not about someone's personal belief in going to Tirumala - it is also ironical, isn't it, that the country's top scientists have a ritual of placing the burden of their success on God a day before launch ? And this is not about just Mars Orbiter. Every satellite model of Isro's is taken to Tirumala a day before launch. Successive chairpersons have felt it fit, that while they have all put in their best efforts, they believe they also need some divine power, something above us all. It does put us all back in our places, right? That there are some things we can control, and some things that we cannot. It raises questions about faith and science, it raises questions that we have all perhaps thought of, it raises questions that, for instance, scientists themselves have tried to answer on the research on the God particle. Should we cover the Tirumala visit, as a matter of routine ? Well, half the country was tuned into seeing what Isro was doing and, if the Isro chairman chose to speak in Tirumala, hours before launch, on the preparedness, on the tension, the excitement... well, why not cover it?