Friday, October 24, 2008

India's gone to the moon.

India is the second most populous country on the planet (and the largest democracy) with an estimated population of approx. 1.2 billion citizens.
Despite it’s rapid economic growth in recent years, it’s still a relatively poor country with GDP per capita of about $1k p.a.
This means that there are hundreds of millions of its citizens who continue to live in what we would regard as acute poverty.

It’s against this background that we learn that India has successfully launched its first mission to the Moon.

According to the BBC website “the unmanned Chandrayaan 1 spacecraft blasted off smoothly from a launch pad in southern Andhra Pradesh to embark on a two-year mission of exploration. The robotic probe will orbit the Moon, compiling a 3-D atlas of the lunar surface and mapping the distribution of elements and minerals.”
“One key objective will be to search for surface or sub-surface water-ice on the Moon, especially at the poles.
Another will be to detect Helium 3, an isotope which is rare on Earth, but is sought to power nuclear fusion and could be a valuable source of energy in future.”
“The Indian experiments include a 30kg probe that will be released from the mothership to slam into the lunar surface. The Moon Impact Probe (MIP) will record video footage on the way down and measure the composition of the Moon's tenuous atmosphere.”
“Chandrayaan (the Sanskrit word for "moon craft") will also investigate the differences between the Moon's near side and its far side. The far side is both more heavily cratered and different in composition to the one facing Earth.”

“It will also drop the Indian flag on the surface of the Moon. The country's tricolour is painted on the side of the probe and, if successful, India will become the fourth country after the US, Russia and Japan to place its national flag on the lunar surface.”

It would be interesting to see how much new science, if any, will be delivered by this expensive mission, assuming it is successfully completed. One would assume that the USA & Russia, with multiple lunar missions over the past 5 decades, have probably answered all the scientific questions the Indians are now posing.

The reality is that this is a hugely expensive national vanity project as India seeks to keep pace with other space-faring nations in Asia e.g. China & Japan.

An Indian space programme which involved the deployment of satellites to provide communications e.g. national phone, internet, tv & radio coverage etc., weather forecasting, defence etc., might make some economic sense.

There are clearly benefits for India in growing its own R&D capabilities, attracting inward investment etc., from developing leading edge scientific and engineering capabilities, but India sending crap to the moon is, quite literally, a complete waste of space.

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