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Cover Story

Moon men


Before 1999: Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) discusses mission to moon in-house.

An open discussion was avoided as it did not fit into the immediate objectives of the organisation.

October 1999: Indian Academy of Sciences discusses proposed moon mission at annual meeting in Lucknow.

Though exploration of scientific opportunities are projected as the reason for the ambitious project, even establishment scientists admit the trigger was rumours that China was about to embark upon a similar programme and India needed to be in on the act.

June 2000: ISRO sets up a task force consisting mainly of insiders to study the feasibility of a moon mission.

Given the fact that scientists have become bored with routine rocket launches, the report unsurprisingly plumps for a lunar mission. The argument put out was that ISRO needed to present bright young scientists with greater challenges, since it could not match private sector salaries, to keep them in the organisation

July 2000: India gets an invitation to become member of International Lunar Exploration Working Group, a group of countries working on lunar exploration.

After lobbying hard, India gets into the international lunar club with the help of the European Space Agency (ESA).

April 2001: A parliamentary standing committee approves the mission.

Logic: Mission will help shrug off the technological plateau that the Indian space programme has hit.

April 2003: India approaches ESA for technical help. ESA agrees to fly improved versions of three Smart-1 payloads on Chandrayaan-1-- C-CIXS, SARA, and SIR-2 -- for more advanced probes.

This is the first time that New Delhi secures international involvement for its lunar mission.

January 2004: ISRO announces that it will accommodate foreign payload to fill the spare space on the lunar mission. The total mass and power available for these foreign gears is 10 kg and 10 watts respectively.

ISRO admits tacitly that it does not have the wherewithal to fill its payload space. The advantage is that data from these payloads will be available to Indian scientists from the outset.

November 2004: India hosts the 6th edition of the International Conference on Exploration and Utilisation of the Moon, using the opportunity to firm up agreements for collaboration. Also decides to add an impactor to the Chandrayaan-1 payload.

This is the first indication from India that it plans to extend its lunar programme.

December 2005: A seed for a second possible lunar mission, this time a lander, is sown with the parliamentary standing committee asking ISRO to explore the possibility of extracting helium-3 for futuristic nuclear fusion reactors. Being only an orbiter, it is beyond Chandrayaan-1's capability to do so.

A further indication that India's lunar ambitions match those of China and the older players.

May 2006: ISRO decides to carry two scientific instruments -- miniSAR and M3 -- designed by US university scientists together with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, aboard Chandrayaan-1.

The decision is taken even while ISRO facilities continue to face US sanctions. ISRO hopes it will get payload space on a future Mars mission.


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