On 15 August 2003, then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had announced, in his Independence Day address, that India will undertake its first mission to the Moon, called Chandrayaan-1. It is but obvious that this announcement would have been made after detailed discussions with scientists from the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) and them expressing confidence at undertaking such a mission. This means that India’s space community was getting ready to undertake tasks like visiting planets even before the beginning of the 21st century. Within five years of the official announcement, India’s first lunar mission was launched.

The mission was launched in October 2008 (inserted into lunar orbit on 8 November), and operated until August 2009. The mission included a lunar orbiter and an impactor which made a hard landing on the Moon’s surface. The mission had flown few international payloads (sensors) too from countries like the US, UK, Germany, Sweden and Bulgaria.

The mission objective was to map the chemical, mineralogical and photo-geologic features of the Moon and create a 3D atlas of its near and far (dark) side. Immediately after the completion of the first mission, scientists from the Isro, Nasa, and the European Space Agency met in Bengaluru on 7-8 September, 2009 and reviewed the data sets obtained from the 11 payloads on-board Chandrayaan-1. It is known that the Isro-Nasa team discovered water on the surface of the Moon from one of such assessments. The quality of the data received from this mission was of a very high standard. By this time the process of data assessment is over and now Isro is undertaking its second mission on a very sound footing. This has actually become clear from the flawless way the Chandrayaan-2 mission has progressed so far from its launch on 22 July.

Post Chandrayaan-1, now during last one decade or so, Isro has gained sufficient experience and developed the expertise to undertake one of its most ambitious missions so far, the Chandrayaan-2. On 7 September, Isro would be attempting a soft landing of its lander and rover system on the surface of the Moon and subsequently, the six-legged rover would be walking on the Moon to collect observations.

Broadly, the mission’s objective is to expand on the data received from the first mission and to get more knowledge of the moon’s surface. Since this mission is focussing on the South Pole of the moon where no other country has ever gone, naturally the data received would be unique in nature and add to global knowledge of the moon.

Chandrayaan-2 has a specific scientific agenda. It would be assessing the nature of water available at the locations on South Pole which are beyond the reach of sunlight. It is expected that dry ice present there would be holding a lot of water deposits. Any discovery in this regard would be of great significance to the human dream of colonializing the Moon.

Another important task is to undertake the mineralogical mapping of the Moon’s surface. India has already acquired some knowledge in this regard and now it is expected to work on specifics. One area of interest could be to explore the availability of helium-3 on the Moon. This is one substance which has been predicted to help resolve the energy crisis. The present mission will also have to identify the type of minerals and their locations from where they could be collected by the next possible mission using robotic equipment. The observations gathered by the orbiter and the work done by the lander and rover system on the moon’s surface would go a long way to help future missions to the moon and planets.

All in all, there are a lot of expectations . Along with fulfilling scientific aims, the success of the mission would also be a technology demonstration for India with wider strategic implications.

Ajey Lele is senior fellow in the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses , New Delhi. He is also the author of Mission Mars: India’s Quest for the Red Planet.

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