Anita Sengupta impressed with Indian students
Man could set foot on Mars one day, says Anita Sengupta, an Indian origin scientist at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), US.
"I hope and think within our lifetimes [it is] a real possibility and is feasible... Future manned missions to Mars are an eminently doable feat from the perspective of a scientific endeavour. But a lot depends on sustained adequate budgetary support, supply of resources and a (political) will for the mission,” said Dr. Sengupta, a scientist with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a California-based field centre of NASA.
‘Curiosity’ on Mars
Dr. Sengupta, who fronted a team of scientists that developed a robust parachute for the smooth landing of NASA’s car-sized robotic rover ‘Curiosity’ on Mars, is currently in the city under the auspices of the US Consulate in Chennai to get children and youth excited in space exploration.
Her trip to cities, which include her father’s hometown Kolkata, Mumbai and Bangalore, coincides with the anniversary of the Mars mission.
The technologies for orbital, landing rover and human missions have some level of similarity, but they also vary. “Technically, there could be some similarity, but, for a manned mission, we need to adapt the spacecraft to a hypersonic aerodynamic acceleration regime.
We might also need a much larger vehicle than the one we used for Curiosity,” she said during an interaction with journalists. An aerospace engineering expert who worked on the Entry, Descent and Landing part of the Curiosity mission, Dr. Sengupta said one of the many challenges was to design a parachuting system that could deal with a heavier payload and larger drag area. “Curiosity has been doing such a fine job of exploring Mars since it landed on Gale Crater a year ago that it has taken us longer than scheduled to move it to the foothills of Mount Sharp,” she said.
The scientist and her team are currently developing an atomic physics experiment for the International Space Station, called the Cold Atom Laboratory (CAL). "It will be the first demonstration of forming a Bose Einstein Condensate in space. It is an experiment that will go in the International Space Station," she said.
The mission would explore ultra cold quantum gases on orbit, with the formation of a Bose Einstein Condensate, which could be thought of as another state of matter. “The idea is to create a lab floating in the space with tests carried out through remote control from earth,” Dr. Sengupta said.
Of her experience with children from India, Ms. Sengupta said she was pleased that they were familiar with space missions, especially those led by US.
“Some of the questions I got were very technical in nature,” she said.
The next time she comes here on an educational outreach initiative, she would like to address children from smaller towns and rural areas, the scientist said.
This article has been revised as Dr. Sengupta was earlier misquoted saying that Man would set foot in Mars in 5 to 15 years. The error is regretted.