Nobody likes being asked why it took them that much time, when they're showing off a prized possession. ISRO Chief K Radhakrishnan is no exception. After showing off the bristling new PSLV-C25, with the Mars Orbiter perched atop it at Launch Site 1 and the swanky Mission Control Centre, he probably was a little miffed when he was asked why it has taken India so many years to even send an orbiter to the Red Planet, when so many other countries had managed it years ago.
Arching his eyebrows, the scientist responded, "We are doing the best we can today," he paused before continuing, "Various countries have sent 51 missions to Mars prior to this. The US and Russia when it was the USSR started working on sending spaceships to Mars in the 60's. We are just about to begin. What we have used to build this orbiter is the best that Indian scientific minds could come up with," he said.
With the US planning to launch Maven later this month, it beggared the question – is Indian trying to get ahead finally? "We're not in a race with any country. And both the satellites will be leaving the Earth's orbit at almost the same time anyway," he said. The Mars Ortbiter is expected to be injected beyond the Earth's sphere of influence at 00.42 hrs on December 1.
This satellite will orbit for between 285 and 300 days before it enters the planetary orbit of Mars. "September 24, 2014 is expected to be date when it starts orbiting Mars. We need to compute the position and forces acting on the satellite when it reached Mars. This has been to be done 300 days in advance. So we're working really hard now," said the ISRO chief genially.
Is GSLV the key to Indians living of Mars?
Given the rather dismal track record of the GSLV, it is heartening that ISRO believes that it may one day carry a crew of three to Mars. And hopefully back. With only 2 out of 7 launches being successful in the past 13 years, this may be a long way off, "GSLV first needs to have a high reliability before we attempt manned space flight. It can take a a crew module with a scientific compartment and 3 members," said ISRO chief Radhakrishnan.
Incidentally, sending a man to the Moon, Mars or anywhere in space isn't as much of a sci-fi story, as it is a distant reality for ISRO. "We are working on a crew module and we're also getting ready for an atmospheric characterisation flight, to check how the module behaves on re-entry," he said and added that the crew module could be tested on the GSLV Mark III which will take off in April 2014.
However, the barriers are many, as he admitted, "There are several aspects of manned human flight from technology to life support, escape system, specific landing and rentry which we dont have yet." With the Mars mission, launching next week, labelled as the "first step" towards the ultimate dream of colonising planets by Radhakrishnan, renewed focus will be on the GSLV to up the numbers. "We are also working on a schedule. The propellant tanks, storage methods and several parts of the cryogenic engine assemble have been finetuned and we hope that the next GSLV launch can be done on December 15," he said.
Fully desi Moon mission?
The next mission to the Moon, Chandrayaan-II, could be fully desi-made. After the Russians, who provided the Moon lander for the first mission backed out of developing another one, ISRO is working on an indigenous model. "We are trying to develop an indigenous lander module for Chandrayaan II. The Rover has been developed already and by the time we launch in 2016, the lander should be ready" he said.
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