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June 26, 2000
ISRO planning moon missionA Correspondent
It was the Cold War that accelerated efforts by the United States and the erstwhile Soviet Union to land people on the moon. In India's case, motivating the scientists and the nation at large will be the main reasons.
According to the weekly India Today, the Indian Space Research Organisation is planning to launch an unmanned mission to the moon in 2005. It quotes Chairman K Kasturirangan as saying that such a mission will reinvigorate Indian scientists and "demonstrate to the world that India is capable of taking up a complex mission that is at the cutting edge of technology".
The US, Russia and Japan are the only ones to have sent missions to the moon, with the US landing the first man on its surface in 1969.
The proposal is still in the planning stages. ISRO has constituted a team of scientists to prepare its case and present it to the Indian government for approval. It is estimated to cost around Rs 3.5 billion. ISRO is confident that it has the technology and vehicles for the mission.
ISRO's best bet would be to put a lunar orbiter armed with an array of sophisticated cameras and measuring instruments to conduct a series of experiments. It would circle the moon for a few years, the magazine says.
After Antarctica, the moon is predicted to be the next frontier for nations competing for resources, like minerals, that have already been tied up in the known world, or which may not exist here. Secondly, with the US, some European countries and Russia already looking forward to landing people on Mars, ISRO thinks it is time India took its initial steps in space exploration.
It is quite possible that those who are already much ahead in the race will eventually think of colonising the moon, and later even the other planets. ISRO doesn't want to be left behind when that happens.
According to Kasturirangan, ISRO wants to employ the expertise it has gained over the years in space research, building satellites and satellite launch vehicles to embark on new initiatives.
So far, ISRO has been able to achieve the objectives that had been set out for the organisation -- space research, weather prediction, build and operate communication satellites. Today, it is in a position to launch and place payloads of up to 1 tonne in low-level orbits (1,000km above the earth). The moon is about 384,467km from the earth.
The magazine goes on to say that not everyone is fired by the idea. Some scientists feel that the department of space has not fulfilled its basic objectives of collecting and transmitting accurate information about the country's resources.
Secondly, beneficiaries are not using the data that ISRO currently provides. With its limited budget, some scientists feel that the organisation should not be spending money on research and development that has no direct operational use. Instead, the money should be used to build superior satellites. They point out that ISRO's satellites have not been able to fulfil even the existing demand for transponders.
Others, like Raman Research Institute Director Professor Narendra Kumar, feel that the mission will push the country's rocketry technology, process systems and communication capability to its limits. The spin-off technology will be enormous, he feels.
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