Scientist Dr Mylswamy Annadurai played a key role in both the Chandrayaan-1 (of which he was the Project Director) and Mangalyaan missions during his long association with ISRO. In a conversation with Express, he tells us the inside story about the origins of India's ambitious project to land on the moon.
When was the moon mission planned?
It was during 2003 or 2004 that an offer came to me from a private firm in Bengaluru with a very high salary. But at the same time, Madhavan Nair, who was the ISRO chairman, called me and asked whether I would take charge as project director for the Chandrayaan 1 mission. I was in two minds about it and had a discussion with my family. My family members, especially my wife, told me to take up the project since it was a challenging one.
What was special about the Chandrayaan 1 mission?
Previously, it was a modest mission. We initially decided to carry six Indian instruments and one from outside India. In reply to our initiative, we got 26 requests from overseas, among which two came from reputed scientists from the US. After a discussion with my colleagues, we decided to carry six instruments from foreign countries apart from the six instruments from India. We finally selected two instruments from the US and the other four from Europe and Japan.
What did our former president Dr Abdul Kalam feel about the moon mission? Did he give any instructions?
Kalam sir was happy. He was the President during that period. After looking at our projects, he said we are carrying so many instruments but we are not ensuring that the Indian flag is placed on the moon. We came to know that he wanted us to land on the moon during Chandrayaan 1 itself. It was a very tough job and I explained the difficulties to him. He agreed and asked us to keep trying.
Why did we decide to carry a small probe along with Chandrayaan 1?
After speaking to Kalam sir, we made decided to carry a small probe weighing 35 kg with our national flag along with Chandrayaan 1 to the moon and then have it land on the moon. As planned, we succeeded in this mission. Above all, we did not drop any of the 12 instruments which were being carried. We won an international award for this concept.
Can you tell us a bit about the discovery of water on the moon? Is it on the surface only or in the subsurface too?
One of the Indian instruments fitted in Chandryaan 1 discovered water on the moon. Water availability under the subsurface was discovered by an American instrument fitted in Chandrayaan 1. This mission confirmed water presence not only on the surface of the moon but also in the exosphere and on the subsurface of the moon.
What about Chandrayaan 2? How did it begin?
The Chandrayaan 1 mission involved many countries, but not Russia. Hence, we had an agreement with Russia to collaborate on Chandrayaan 2, which would be a landing mission along with the orbiter. The main idea behind carrying the lander was that if it fails, we will be having an orbiter to ensure the mission is not a total failure.
Was the design of the lander sent to the moon in Chandrayaan 2 changed?
Yes, we changed the configuration of the lander but this increased the weight. Hence, we were forced to use GSLV Mk III. This was why the budget also went above what was initially planned. The original budget was Rs 420 crores. Eventually, the project was done at Rs 978 crores.
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Why do you think we lost contact with the Chandrayaan 2 lander?
In 1958, when my mother delivered me, everyone was attending to her while I was lying beside. She finally came out of the trauma and looked at her baby which had very little signs of life. Then she asked those around to heat a steel pin till it was red hot and place it on my forehead. I cried, she smiled. The Vikram lander is awaiting a similar wake-up call.