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Last Updated : May 20, 2019 07:05 PM IST | Source: Moneycontrol.com

Digging Deeper | Moon missions and possibilities of life: A lunar journey with Chandrayaan scientist Jitendra Goswami

Principal scientist of Chandrayaan-1, Jitendra Goswami, talks about his experience in the first mission, and what we can all expect from the next.

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Moon exploration took a big leap when Russia launched a space probe to the earth's satellite in 1959. Since then, India is not far behind – having become only the fourth country to send a spacecraft (Chandrayaan-1) to the Moon.

As ISRO prepares for its second mission Chandrayaan-2 in July, Devika Bharany speaks to Jitendra Goswami, the former director of Physical Research Laboratory (Ahmedabad), who headed the Chandrayaan-1 team.

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Tune in to this edition of Digging Deeper as he talks about his experience in the first mission, and what we can expect from the next.

Below are excerpts from the interview:

Q: How would you describe the experience of successfully conducting Indias first Moon mission? What was your most memorable moment while helming Chandrayaan-1?

A: The idea of having a mission to the Moon was initiated by ISRO in the late nineties. Plan for all aspects of the mission realisation was done with utmost care. Approval for the first Indian Mission to the Moon, Chandrayaan-1, was given by the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, on our independence day, in 2003. The mission was launched in 2008, as planned, from the ISRO launch-pad at Sriharikota.

The successful launch was rejoiced by all present at the site. However, my most memorable moment came much later, when Chandrayaan-1 reached closer to the Moon, and incredible images of the lunar surface, taken by the onboard camera on the 'Lunar Impactor', were relayed back to Earth. We were thrilled looking at the photographs streaming in and this marked the first close up views of the lunar surface taken by an Indian Mission to the Moon. At the same time, Chandrayaan-1 was also inserted into an elliptical orbit around the moon. We were simply thrilled.

With Chandrayaan-1, India succeeded in reaching the Moon and placing our mission in orbit around it in the very first attempt, a feat applauded by all. We then waited for data from the instruments on board.

Q: According to one of your research papers, Chandrayaan-1 detected lava tubes beneath the Moons surface. Can you please elaborate?

A: Presence of 'Lava tube', beneath the lunar surface, simply suggests that there were instances for the presence of 'hot fluid' on the Moon that may cool down to form 'lava-tubes'. These could be large in size, and such features are present on the lunar surface. However, they do not suggest habitability, although one cannot rule out such possibilities with improved technology and facilities in the distant future.

Q: After Chandrayaan-1's successful mission, what can aspiring scientists expect from Chandrayaan-2?

A: Chandrayaan-2 is a mega project.  All the instruments (payloads) onboard are designed to probe various aspects of the Moon. A major advancement will be probing the lunar surface with instruments deployed on the moon along with Lander and Rover. All the payload for this mission were designed for probing various aspects of the Moon. Unlike in Chandrayaan-1, where foreign teams were invited from other countries to be a part of the mission to ensure high science return, Chandrayaan-2 will be the most ambitious space mission to be conducted by India on its own. All the payload are developed in various centres of ISRO with the Physical Research Laboratory (PRL) contributing three of the payloads. We expect Chandrayaan-2 will be ready for a flight soon.

Of course in the meantime, we had our very successful maiden mission to Mars, that revealed some new facts about the high altitude upper atmosphere of the planet, not probed before. The possibility for another mission to Mars is also suggested.

Q: Chandrayaan-1, Mangalyaan & many other space missions have been carried out by India, especially sending the most number of satellites to outer space, does this mean, India would have its own Space Station anytime soon?

A: ISRO’s support for launching a large number of 'mini-satellite' may be considered as an activity that helps broaden the views of young people, both in India and other countries. Several recent Indian space missions have also provided piggy-back type launch for people from India and other countries, and, I feel such activities are welcome and will bring further support from people in India and abroad.

It is difficult to say when India will have its own Space Station, it is a bit of costly affair and one must have a long-time plan for utilisation of such a station and its maintenance. However, it will be useful to develop such a system, provided utilisation plans and adequate funds are in hand.

Q: How advanced is Indias space research as compared to international agencies?

A: I feel we are close to the international agencies in content, but not in volume.  We should not lag behind, and, at the same time, we should try to expand the scope and content of our Space Research activities.

Q: Do you think humans will ever be able to live on the moon someday? If yes, how many years do you think this will be possible in?

A: I feel given the present global situation, most of us will not be around to live on the moon. A lunar habitat could be an experience, as happened to all astronauts who went to the Moon or orbited around it. However, a human habitat on the Moon on a permanent basis may have to wait.

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First Published on May 20, 2019 07:05 pm
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