The first Indian lunar probe the Chandrayaan I (in sanskrit, संस्कृतम् Chandra = moon ; Yaan = Vehicle . So, literally it means moon craft) beamed back its first pictures of the earth that it took as the ISRO (Indian Space Research Organization) has been testing the cameras on Chandrayaan.
The terrain mapping camera aboard Chandrayaan, which is a black and white imager, had been turned on for testing. It relayed back two test images, one taken at a height of 3,000 km and the other at a height if 70,000 km. The Pictures can be found and viewed in higher resolution here.
Update (15 November): Chandrayaan has now started sending pictures from the Moon, this post was written only for the pictures sent back of the Earth while testing the terrain mapping camera. Find them at the end of this post.
[Pictures of home never grow old ]
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The Chandrayaan was launched on the 22nd of October by India’s old warhorse the PSLV (C11) into an initial elliptical orbit around the Earth. Like many I was skeptical about the logic for such a mission when it was announced a few years ago. I just thought there was no real logic in doing an exercise that would essentially be a re-invention of the wheel. Over time my view refined by more information about it has changed. I will come back to this in just about a while.
Ofcourse one would say anything to do with space research is a show of a countries growing economic clout and it commands immediate respect. True, but that is not why I think it is not a futile exercise.
Inexpensive, So why not do it? Some argue that though India is growing rapidly and is projected to over take many major European economic powerhouses by 2015-2020 (It is already ahead of them in PPP terms though still has a long way to go in nominal GDP terms) and countries like Japan by the 2030-35, it still has a lot of people under the poverty line and the standard of living remains low. So it is only a waste of money. Well, the Chandrayaan I only cost $80 million, the cheapest moon mission of comparable scales by far. And this much money is meager when you look at an elephant like economy really (to give you an idea, the Boeing 747-8 costs US$285.5-300 million according to 2007 prices. So the mission that way cost nothing really, so the whole talk about India wasting money has very little ground.
To Avoid a Possible Space Apartheid: The NPT is always billed as an unfair treaty by three nations that refuse to sign it – India, Israel and Pakistan. Their argument being that the provision of the treaty that allows the countries that made atomic weapons before 1967 to keep weapons, and to continue their development and to disallow and to impose sanctions on countries that try to develop weapons later is unfair, and there is no reason stated why such a distinction is made. India has advocated disarmament as a complete solution.
Anyway, I have always thought that an international agency should hold a minimum number of weapons and all the other countries should give up their nuclear weapons over time. This reserve should be kept only for a very unlikely doomsday scenario in the future that might require mankind (stress added) to intercept a comet on collision path towards the Earth with an Orion like super missile. This is extremely unlikely, but one can never totally rule out the chance even in a medium term time vector.
Coming back, if in a similar manner, in the medium term future there is a possibility of some select countries to set up a base on Mars or on the Moon, then it is possible that countries who made a mark in space till a specific date might only get to join. And it might just end up being like the NPT. So making a mark is a wise thing to do. Though again this is a sort of an outlandish argument.
Now coming back to the main argument that was it worth it to send a mission that is like doing boldly what others have done before. What new is left on the moon to be looked at, absolutely nothing? I think it is not something like that, and it is definitely worth it. Let’s get a sense of history first to see why.
A Little History: The Moon always has been an object of wonder since the stone age man. Many rock paintings have featured the moon. Over the ages people have looked up with amazement on what it was and what was on it. Most religious beliefs accorded it to be an immutable creation of God and some gave the Moon the status of god.
This notion was first challenged in recorded history by the observations of the Canterbury Monks in 1178 (June 18), who recorded an explosion on the moon, which was in recent times confirmed as a comet striking the moon. By the middle ages it was fairly recognized that the moon was a sphere though mostly it was held that it had a smooth surface. The heretic Galileo Galilei was the first to draw images of the moon that challenged this view. Clearly, the telescope was the first giant leap in the exploration of the moon. Over time it was recognized that the moon had a surface as terrestrial as on Earth and that there was nothing heavenly about the moon. For some centuries for the want of tools, there continued to be speculations about the nature of moon and life on it.
Speculations are always a part of any space exploration or thought process, they only aid in further development of tools to explore them, the present one being speculations (though more studied and calculated than the ones we had 500 years ago ofcourse) about water or He3 on the moon. The absence of tools gave rise to wild speculations like in the great moon hoax of 1835 a number of people were led to believe that there were strange beings living on the moon.
[The Luna 1]
It was the first human made object to reach the vicinity of the moon. The subsequent cold war race between the Soviet Union and the US culminated in 1969 with the landing of the first humans on the moon. Till then they had sent about 40 spacecrafts to map and study the lunar surface in great detail. After the first moon landing about a dozen men landed on the moon. They were as follows:
Apollo 11 [July 20, 1969]:
1. Neil Armstrong “One small step for (a) man, One giant leap for mankind…”
2. Buzz Aldrin
Apollo 12 [November 19-20, 1969]:
3. Pete Conrad
4. Alan Bean
Apollo 14 [February 5-6, 1971]:
5. Alan Shepard
6. Edgar Mitchell
Apollo 15 [July 31-August 2, 1971]:
7. David Scott
8. James Irwin
Apollo 16 [April 21-23, 1972]:
9. John W. Young
10. Charles Duke
Apollo 17 [December 11-14, 1972]:
11. Eugene Cernan
12. Harrison Schmitt
The Soviets mainly relied on robotic explorers to collect rock samples whereas the above astronauts got about 400 kg of soil and rock samples back to earth for investigation. After the end of this race the interest in the moon significantly waned. Was there anything left to know about the moon that would interest us at all?
>> Though we know the maximum about the moon as compared to any other celestial body other than our own planet, we still know very little about it.
>> The Moon is 4.5 billion years old and is a witness to the countless mysteries about the solar system we are not aware of. It still has a lot to offer. And its proximity would only help us in this quest.
>> Comprehensive lunar surveyors like the Clementine gave us a lot of new insight, but a lot remains to be known.
>> The origins of the moon are not known well enough. According to one hypothesis that has maximum currency today is that a large object collided with the Earth and resulted into debris that eventually formed the Moon.
How the Chandrayaan is Not A Reinvention of the Wheel:
1. The chief advantage that the Chandrayaan has is that it carries instruments that can survey the Moon in extensive detail like never before. This could lead to various new insights. It could map the Moon using the visible, UV, IR, X-Ray, Low Power Gamma ray and radar. This would give a detailed 3-D atlas of the moon and also a sound picture of its chemical composition.
The probe is expected to orbit the moon for two years, in this period if suppose there is a solar flare, then the x-rays emitted from the Sun could cause the iron on the Moon to emit characteristic X-rays which could be analysed by the Imaging X-Ray spectrometer. Also, this data could be used by the Hyper Spectral Imager and the Moon Mineralogy mapper to find out the amount of Iron on the Moon.
2. Water on the permanently shadowed regions of the poles of the Moon was a distinct possibility that was indicated by the Clementine mission, the Chandrayaan could go a long way in investigating this further.
3. There are many other objectives that the Chandrayaan is expected to work at.
For more details look here
Update (15th November): Chandrayaan has now started sending back images of the Moon and some have been released by the ISRO. They can be found over here:
One of them below was taken by the TMC in orbit.
[Photo Source: Indian Space Research Organization ]
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In conclusion, one thing is for sure. World competition for space is now a thing of the past IMHO and space agencies around the world would only co-operate for working towards the overall benefit of mankind.