Isro achievement in past 50 yrs
Indian Space Research Organisation’s space odyssey started in 1969 and within six years it was able to send India’s first satellite-Aryabhatta-into space. Since then, its journey has been dotted with milestones, one after another, and a few setbacks that were few and far between.
Around 1.52 am on September 7 when hundreds of scientists at the Indian Research Space Organisation (Isro) were glued to their monitor screens at Isro’s control centre in Bengaluru, and millions of Indians were glued to their TV sets and mobile phones back home, India achieved two milestones and missed one by a whisker.
In focus was ‘Mission Chandrayaan-2’, India’s ambitious attempt to reach Moon’s south polar region, an area largely unexplored as most lunar probes have focused on Moon’s equator and north pole. It was not just an attempt to merely reach Moon’s south pole, Chandrayaan-2 was an attempt to soft-land a rover there, a feat achieved by only three countries — the US, Russia and China.
On September 7, India reached the Moon for the second time. This was a record in sorts, given the handful countries who have done it before. What India also achieved that day was reaching the Moon’s south polar region, again. (The first was in 2008 with the hard-landing of Chandrayaan-1.)
But, these milestones aside, the milestone that India probably missed by a whisker was, it not being able to soft-land a rover on the Moon. Vikram Lander (which was part of Chandrayaan-2) landed on Moon, but not in the manner Isro scientists had planned it to.
Isro lost contact with Vikram in the penultimate moments when it was just 2.1 km above Moon’s surface. What exactly happened next is not known. Did it crash-land on the Moon? We do not know. Was it able to control its speed on its own despite losing contact with Isro (its system did have the capability)
So far Isro has said it has located Vikram on the Moon. It is in “one piece” and in a “tilted position”. “Efforts to establish contact with it are on and data is being analysed,” is what Isro has said.
Had it been a successful soft-landing, India would have entered the league of a few nations to achieve the feat. But nevertheless, much of the Chandrayaan-2 mission is intact and in a very healthy state because most experiments will be carried out by the orbiter and not Vikram the lander. As per Isro, the orbiter is perfectly fine and moving on its trajectory around Moon.
Despite the setback with Vikram’s landing, September 7 will be remembered as a day that heralded India into a new zone of space explorations.
Call it a coincidence or something destined, but the feats of Chandrayaan-2 come in a year when Isro completes its 50 years. In this five-decade-old journey, the scientists at Isro have ensured that the organisation reached milestones, one after the other, that kept their morale high to explore new frontiers.
Isro’s space odyssey started on August 15, 1969. Within six years it achieved its first milestone on April 19, 1975 when the first Indian satellite — Aryabhatta — successfully entered outer space with the help of the Soviet space agency. Weighing 360 kg, Aryabhatta had a mission life of just six months. For India, that was its ‘one small step, one giant leap’ moment.
In many ways, the scale of Isro’s space odyssey can be understood from how it journeyed from the age of Aryabhatta in 1975 to the age of something as complex as Chandrayaan-2 in 2019.
In this period, Isro sent 105 Indian satellites into space, developed its own independent launch systems, carried out 75 launches, reached the Moon twice, successfully sent a spacecraft orbiting Mars, besides sending 297 satellites of 33 countries and 10 satellites designed and built by Indian students.
But, like journeys of all great ambitious organisations, there of course were a few setbacks and failures that dotted Isro’s space odyssey. The positive aspect was, they were few and far between.
Of the 75 launches that Isro has carried out till date, only eight were unsuccessful. Besides this, two satellites failed in their orbits after being successfully launched while one suffered partial failure.
In terms of complexity, Chandrayaan-2 has been the most sophisticated missions undertaken by Isro till date. Its precursor, Chandrayaan-1 too reached the Moon but through crash landing. In fact, it was the one that found vital evidence indicating presence of water molecules in Moon’s south polar region, thus generating curiosity among space scientists to explore the region further.
As Isro embarks on its journey to explore new frontiers, next on its radar is the ambitious ‘mission Gaganyaan’ which plans to send three Indian into the space by 2022.
What exactly happened with Vikram in those final moments on September 7 will be known in due course, but the journey of experimentation and exploration at Isro continues…