By successfully completing the ‘heart-stopping’ operation of manoeuvring the Chandrayaan-2 spacecraft into the lunar orbit using the onboard propulsion system, Indian scientists have crossed a significant milestone in the space odyssey. Lunar Orbit Insertion (LOI) is by far the most challenging part of the mission, to be followed by another key task of separating the lander from the orbiter and then soft-land on the South Pole of the moon, a region that is still unexplored by humanity. As one scientist succinctly put it, the entire operation is so complex that it can be compared to a situation where a man, with a rose in hand, is proposing to a lady who is dancing at a speed of 3,600 km per hour at nearly 3.84 lakh km away. If the couple has to meet, then the precision and accuracy are of utmost importance. India’s tryst with the moon is expected to yield rich scientific dividends. If Chandrayaan-1 made a path-breaking discovery of water molecules on the lunar surface and new rock types with unique chemical composition, a feat duly acknowledged by Nasa, the Chandrayaan-2 mission is expected to shed light on a completely unexplored section of the moon—the South Polar region that never faces the earth. The latest mission will help scientists gain a better understanding of the origin and evolution of the moon by conducting detailed topographical studies, comprehensive mineralogical analyses and a host of other experiments on the lunar surface.
The scheduled soft-landing on the moon on September 7 is going to be the first such critical mission being attempted by Isro because Chandrayaan-1 did not involve soft-landing component. The mission life of orbiter will be one year while that of the lander (Vikram) and rover (Pragyan) will be one lunar day, which is equal to 14 earth days. The process of setting down Chandrayaan-2 on the moon is very complex since it was blasted off by GSLV MkIII-M1 vehicle at a velocity of 39,240 km per hour, which is almost 30 times the speed at which sound travels through the air. Chandrayaan-2 is a testimony to Isro’s growing global role and its international tie-ups. Isro is well placed to exploit moon’s resources, particularly waste-free nuclear energy, estimated at trillions of dollars. The helium-3 isotope, abundant on the moon, could, in theory, meet global energy requirements for around 250 years. The ‘Gaganyaan’ project, envisaging sending three astronauts into space, will allow pooling in of diverse technological and industrial capabilities and enable broader participation in research opportunities and technology development. This will spur research and development within the country in niche science and technology domains. There is a huge potential for technology spin-offs in areas such as medicine and agriculture.