Off to the moon

Well past noon on July 22, was the moment of truth for several people at the Sathish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota, about 100 km from Chennai. This was the moment they had been working together for several months now, and the nervousness in the room was palpable. The first attempt, a few days ago had hit a hurdle. And at 14.43 hours, all their efforts came to fruition when Chandrayaan-2, India’s second lunar exploration mission, was officially launched.

The launch had originally been scheduled for July 15, but had to be called off due to a technical glitch noticed while filling the cryogenic engine of the rocket with helium, a mere hour before the launch. “The work done in the next 24 hours, to bring the vehicle back to normal was mind-boggling. We bounced back with flying colours after the earlier technical snag. Success is coming after a call-off,” said a beaming and visibly relieved ISRO Chairman K. Sivan.

The mission is India’s second journey to the moon and its most ambitious and complex space project yet, and comes more than a decade after ISRO’s successful launch of its first lunar mission Chandrayaan-1. In September this year, Chandrayaan-2 will aim to land a rover on the Moon, making India the fourth country in the world to do so, after former Soviet Union, the U.S., and China.

Chandrayaan-2 consists of three components: the orbiter, the lander and the rover. Once Chandrayaan-2 reaches the Moon, the orbiter will enter into an orbit around the satellite and will continue revolving around the Moon for a year, performing experiments to study the satellite’s outer atmosphere.

Among the experiments the Chandrayaan-2 will carry out, it will conduct tests to understand the extent of water distribution under the lunar surface.

Apart from studying the Moon’s surface, it will also examine the satellite’s outer atmosphere.

The aim of this mission is to improve our understanding of the Moon and discoveries that will benefit India and humanity as a whole. The insights and experiences hope to create a paradigm shift in how lunar expeditions are approached for years to come, moving to more voyages into the farthest frontiers.

Women power

There is also another reason why the launch is special. This is the first time in India’s space history, that an interplanetary expedition is being led by two women — Muthaya Vanitha, the project director, and Ritu Karidhal, the mission director.

Reluctant to take the responsibility of project director of Chandrayaan 2 at first, it took immense persuasion on the part of M. Annadurai, the project director of Chandrayaan 1, to convince Vanitha. An electronics system engineer of great repute within ISRO, Vanitha has also been responsible for handling data operations for the country’s remote sensing satellites. She has also won Best Woman Scientist Award of the Astronautical Society of India in 2006, and played a key role in the launch and success of Mangalyaan in November 2013.

Ritu is fondly referred to as the ‘Rocket Woman of India’, as she was the deputy operations director for Mangalyaan in 2013-2014. This time around, it was her responsibility to design Chandrayaan 2’s onward autonomy system, which gives the spacecraft the ability to navigate its trajectory and respond to satellites with a relative degree of independence.

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Printable version | Mar 4, 2021 5:12:03 AM |

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