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India can have a shot at galactic glory if it pulls off its Mars mission on time

Discussion in 'Education & Research' started by ManuSankar, Jun 25, 2012.

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  1. ManuSankar

    ManuSankar Major SENIOR MEMBER

    May 31, 2011
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    India can have a shot at galactic glory if it pulls off its Mars mission on time

    Exactly 42 days from now, on August 6, a visitor will descend on one of earth's closest planetary neighbours using a complex sky crane system that will ensure it lands gently on the red planet's surface within minutes of tearing through its atmosphere at 13,600 miles per hour. The 'visitor' , NASA's latest Mars exploration rover, a robot called Curiosity that weights a little more than a hatchback on the road, will probe the Martian surface for signs of habitability.

    It will be a touch-down that will be closely watched, especially by space scientists from China and India. Before it launched its first woman into space last week, China had attempted to send a satellite to Mars, which failed to clear the earth's orbit, and was declared lost.

    It's a scenario Indian space scientists would be hoping they don't have to face. For, if things go as per plan, Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) would be launching its first mission to Mars tentatively by next year. This year's budget has already allocated Rs 125 crore for project, which would be an orbiting satellite somewhat similar to China's failed attempt.

    ISRO scientists have begun deliberating on the scientific payloads for the orbiter that would go around in an elliptical orbit around Mars, collecting data on the planet's atmosphere. However, they are cagey about divulging too many details, saying that the Cabinet approval for the project hasn't come through yet.

    JN Goswami, director of ISRO's Physical Research Laboratory, who had spearheaded the agency's moon mission, Chandrayaan-I , and is also involved in the Mars project, says in an email response, "Although no mission team has been announced till now, we are encouraging efforts to see if laboratory models of some of the proposed experiments can be made so that as and when we get the opportunity for the Mars mission, we do not start from scratch."

    ISRO's interest in Mars might not be surprising. After the success of Chandrayaan-I the agency has gained confidence in assembling and operating a complicated space mission. The move to Mars could become the next step in its technology-building capability. Also, if it manages to get mission-ready by November 2013- when the planet's orbital dynamics makes it a good time to launch - it might just have a heads-up on China.

    "India is lagging behind China in the manned space program department and although human spaceflight is still a line item on ISRO's budget, India seems to be distinguishing itself from its superpower neighbour by pursuing more scientifically oriented robotic missions," says Jeffrey Marlow of the California Institute of Technology.

    While going to Mars might be a super confidence-booster , many are not sure whether India's attempt would add much to the scientific knowledge already acquired by previous missions, especially that of NASA and the Russian Space Agency which have been sending probes to the red planet since the 1960s.

    "My impression is that this is purely a technical mission with some science payloads thrown in for added value. It cannot add much science to the already existing body of knowledge done by existing missions such as NASA's Mars Observer," says Jayant Murthy of the Indian Institute of Astrophysics.

    However, the indigenous Mars orbiter might just be capable of throwing up some surprises, not unlike Chandrayaan-I which found water molecules on the lunar surface. The trump card for ISRO could be the Methane Sensor, which is reportedly one of the instruments being considered to be put onboard.

    In 2009, NASA scientist Michael Mumma had spotted substantial plumes of methane in the Martian atmosphere . According to Marlow, Mumma's results are worth a second, closer look. "NASA is eager to fly a mission to study the Martian atmosphere in more detail, but India might beat it to the punch."

    But in order to do so, ISRO must meet the November 2013 launch window target. Otherwise, the next dates - when the planet's orbital dynamics are suitable - are in 2016 and 2018, by when other countries like Russia and the European Space Agency would also have put their probes in orbit. Also, a mission to Mars involves substantial technical bottlenecks which Indian scientists would need to overcome.

    In order to put its orbiter in place, ISRO is planning to use its old warhorse - the tried and tested PSLV (Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle), which it had successfully deployed during its moon mission. However, according to Amitabha Ghosh, a scientist working with NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Mission, Mars will be a different ball-game and ISRO will have to keep in mind a number of factors to prepare its vehicle for the nine-month long journey. "The spacecraft would need a greater degree of built-in automation compared to a spacecraft headed to the moon, thereby posing a greater engineering challenge ," he says.

    Despite the bottlenecks, though, excitement is mounting at the prospect of India's Martian odyssey. Dhruv Joshi, a student of IIT Bombay, who recently started the India chapter of the Mars Society, an organization that promotes the human exploration and settlement of Mars, says that it's an opportunity that Indian space scientists should not let go.

    "The intangible gains from such a launch would be immense. It would inspire a generation of youngsters in a nation where engineering education is held in such high regard, not to mention the soft power that is to be gained by joining the elite group of spacefaring nations which have accomplished such a feat. The successful accomplishment of this may set the stage for huge future Indian projects to Mars."

    All this will happen if India pulls off its maiden mission, and on schedule. Incidentally , in Hindi, Mars is called Mangal, which means auspicious and blissful. The question is whether the planet will live up to its name for Indian space scientists.


    It has been the fantasy of science fiction writers for years - and it might just come true in the not so distant future. Human settlements on Mars are being considered as a serious possibility by space scientists, who believe the red planet offers a better potential for sustaining habitats than the moon, because of the presence of vast reserves of frozen water and a thin atmosphere, which mimics conditions found in certain areas of earth.

    Manned missions to Mars have been in the pipeline since the 1950s but have been difficult to execute because of the long travelling time (almost nine months) and the complex logistics involved in landing and returning. In order to counter this, Mars advocates have been mooting the 'Mars to Stay" plan which proposes that astronauts sent to Mars for the first time should stay there indefinitely, both to reduce mission cost and to ensure permanent settlement of the planet.

    Perhaps the most vocal proponent of this proposal is astronaut Buzz Aldrin, the second man to set foot on the moon in 1969, who has justified the plan, saying, "The trip to Mars warrants more than a brief sojourn. So those who are on board should think of themselves as pioneers. Like the pilgrims who came to the New World or the families who headed to the Wild West, they should not plan on coming back home."

    India can have a shot at galactic glory if it pulls off its Mars mission on time - The Economic Times
  2. Himanshu Pandey

    Himanshu Pandey Don't get mad, get even. STAR MEMBER

    Jul 21, 2011
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    now this is the work which is going to be diffcult but a booster for us surely..
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