Indian Space Research Organisation's historic mission to Mars makes for fascinating reading and will spark the interest of young minds in space science and space journeys, says ISRO chairman K Radhakrishnan in the forward of a new book on the red planet.
"India's tryst with space science dates back to ancient astronomers and mathematicians who have striven to understand our place in the Universe. Now, in 21st century, we stand at a unique time in exploration of our heavens," says Radhakrishnan in the foreword of book "Destination Mars: Secrets of the Red Planet Revealed."
Authored by SK Das, an honorary advisor to the ISRO, the book takes readers to the "most exciting planet in the solar system" and talks about the secrets that astronomers and scientists have unearthed about it over the years.
"Das's book is a welcome and timely development. It tells the story of Mars as it captured the imagination of people in the early days, first as a red object in the sky with its eccentric motion and later as a planet where people thought life might have existed in a similar form as on Earth," says Radhakrishnan.
The ISRO Chairman, who is also Secretary in the Department of Space and Space Commission Chairman says, "Mars with its many similarities to Earth is an important mission prospective for ISRO."
"Our Mars Orbiter will take almost 300 days to reach the intended Martian orbit, and the long flight of the craft through space is indeed challenging. This will prove ISRO's technological capability of sending a spacecraft so deep into space," he says.
He gives a very short description of how the discovery of more planets by astronomers indicated that the Universe could be more habitable than previously known. The Orbiter Mission to Mars is "also a science mission because it is designed to carry out observations of the physical features of Mars and do a study of the Martian atmosphere with five scientific payloads. It paves the way for the scientific community to take a look at Mars from close quarters."
The slim volume has information about how Mars was formed, what it looks like up close, whether or not there was any water on it and if there was ever any life there. Das, the book's author, explains that Mars had been called the Red Planet by ancient Greeks and the Romans because it appeared in the night sky as a star bathed in the colour of blood.
"This led the ancients to equate Mars with war and aggression. People thought of it with awe. Every time they looked up at the night sky and saw a blood-red dot moving ominously from west to east, they were filled with fear," says Das. After the invention of the telescope astronomers discovered that the planet changed colour in seasons, had dust storms and white polar caps in winter, which disappeared in the summer.
Scientists have now discovered that Mars is more complex than they thought, it is peppered with craters and cut by canyons deep enough to swallow the Earth's Grand Canyon and has the tallest volcano in the solar system.
An American radio play in 1938 convinced people that creatures from Mars had actually landed on Earth in their war machines leading to panic in the US about a Martian invasion, says the book. "Of course the whole thing was just a joke," says Das.
In the last five decades, as many as 42 Mars probes have been attempted, says Das, who details the missions by Russia, US, European Space agency, Japan and China.
"We are on way to discovering more about Mars. Countries have been sending space probes for fifty years now, and within another twenty years perhaps humans will visit it too. A lot has been learnt from these space probes but there is still a lot more to learn. We have to keep exploring Mars," he says.
Written in simple language and dotted with numerous diagrams and photographs, the book also explains how rockets and spacecraft are designed and sent to Mars.
Among the colour photographs in the book include "The face of Man" a photograph taken by Viking Mission in July 1976, "The rock Yogi" taken by rover Sojourner in the Rock Garden Ares Vallis plain in July 1997 and Diemos, the Mars' moon taken by Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter on February 21, 2009.
"The pictures and diagrams included in the book will help young minds appreciate the various facets of space exploration and of Mars as a planet...It will be an useful not only for students sparking their interest in space science and space journeys but also for others interested in interplanetary exploration," says Radhakrishnan.
Priced at Rs 195, the book is brought out by Red Turtle, a children's and young adult imprint of Rupa Publications. Das has also authored a number of books including "Mission Moon: Exploring the Moon with Chandrayaan 1" and "All About Rockets."