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Updated: December 12, 2011 19:21 IST

Celebrating the mission to the moon

Sruti Nayani
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Testing, testing: Chandrayaan
Testing, testing: Chandrayaan

Chandrayaan I made a major breakthrough by picking up signs of water molecules for the first time in the lunar exploration's history.

Three years ago, on November 12, 2008 Chandrayaan (lunar craft), Indias first unmanned probe, began to orbit the polar regions of the moon. And after two days, on November 14, the mission achieved its first goal when the Moon Impact Probe carrying the Indian national flag separated from the main craft and landed on the moon.

Chandrayaan was launched on PSLV, the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle - a launch system developed and operated by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) that blasted off towards the moon from Sriharikota on October 22, 2008.

Chandrayaan was to orbit around moon 100 km from its surface and take up the remote sensing of lunar surface, photo geological and chemical mapping in order to understand the constitution of the lunar crust. Chandrayaan operated for 312 days as opposed to the intended two years but the mission achieved most of the objectives. In August 2009, Chandrayaan stopped sending radio signals shortly after which end of the mission was declared.

The mission was over but not before it achieved a major breakthrough. The probe picked up signs of water molecules for the first time in the lunar exploration's history. This does not mean that there are oceans, or lakes or even puddles. But definitely, there are huge deposits of water held by the top layers of the lunar soil. The water migrates across the lunar surface and gets deposited and retained for millions of years in the craters. The solar winds from the sun with the lunar soil could be responsible for the water creation.

Icy

“We found that in more than forty small craters there could trillion of kilograms of ice. Such perpetually dark and extremely cold craters are present at both poles of the moon,” Dr B. G. Sidharth, Director General of the B.M. Birla Science Centre, Hyderabad.

What could the findings mean for us? Ice on the moon could be melted into water for future moon settlers. Ice could be separated into oxygen and hydrogen. It could also provide rocket fuel for launching interplanetary spacecrafts from the moon. The moon's gravity is lower, and therefore it is easier to launch vehicles from there. In the future, lunar bases could be set up on the moon's surface.

“Remember, the moon is closest to us and we will have a place to settle and also launch ourselves from there,” Dr Sidharth adds. “Apart from scientific returns, the technology used could help us to design more lunar modules, which can take people to the moon in the next decade,” adds Dr Sidharth.

In 2014, India will be sending a joint lunar exploration mission to the moon with Chandrayaan 2 on the GSLV (Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle).

This mission would use and test newer technologies and conduct experiments. Chandrayaan 2 will consist of the spacecraft and a landing platform with the moon rover. The rover is a space exploration vehicle designed to move across the surface of the moon. It will collect soil and rock samples on the moon surface, analyse them and send the data.

The L and S band Synthetic Aperture Radar on board will probe lunar surface. It will be yet another big step for India in the realm of space research.

Moonward Ho!

The moon, has remained the most wanted goal of nations across the world. It all began with the Soviet Union, attempting the first ever physical exploration of the Moon, when a space probe launched by them in 1959. In 1969, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was the first agency of the United States government that was responsible for Project Apollo, which first landed men on the Moon. The moon has since then been explored by countries such as Japan, China, and even India. India's Chandrayaan- joined the club of advanced space faring nations with this.

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