A day after the ground-breaking discovery of water on the moon hit headlines around the world, Chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) G. Madhavan Nair has said that Chandrayaan-1 had detected water on the lunar surface as early as June 2009.
The indigenously developed Moon Impact Probe (MIP), which crash-landed at a designated site on the lunar south pole on November 14, 2008, had picked up “clear signatures” of water during its 25-minute descent, Mr. Nair said at a press conference here on Friday.
Analysis of the data from a mass spectrometer on the MIP pointed to the presence water, he added. The cuboid probe also bore the Indian tricolour thus “planting the Indian flag” on the moon when it landed.
This finding was later “confirmed” by the Moon Mineralogy Mapper (or M3, developed by NASA) that established the presence of water and hydroxyl on the lunar surface. While ISRO knew about water presence “way back in June” they waited for the findings of NASA’s M3 to be published in the journal Science this week before announcing it, Mr. Nair said.
Describing the discovery of water by the M3 as “epoch making”, J.N. Goswami, Principal Scientist, Chandrayaan-1, and Director of the Physical Research Laboratory, Ahmedabad, said: “We had assumed that the moon was bone-dry. We have proved ourselves and others wrong.” If a good amount of water was found subsequently on the poles, this could become an important resource for future lunar explorations, he said.
Being the nearest object to earth, the moon could become a base for space exploration and a resource not just for water but also for fuel, said Mr. Nair when asked about the significance of the finding. “It was also a fine example of how the international scientific community can work together,” he said.
These new insights into the moon’s composition and presence of water molecules could prompt a “revisit” to the scientific goals of India’s second lunar mission, Chandrayaan-2, Mr. Nair said.
Chandrayaan-2, being readied for a 2013 launch, could therefore see a “mid-course correction” of its objectives, he, added.
The mission so far includes two rovers (one developed by the Russian space agency and the other by ISRO) which will move on the lunar surface to pick up soil for chemical analysis. The scientific instruments that the mission would carry were still being debated and several proposals had been coming in from India and abroad, Mr. Nair said.