India to Mars – The Mother of all Slingshots

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Joseph P Chacko
Joseph P Chacko
Joseph P. Chacko is the publisher of Frontier India. He holds an M.B.A in International Business. Books: Author: Foxtrot to Arihant: The Story of Indian Navy's Submarine Arm; Co Author : Warring Navies - India and Pakistan. *views are Personal

On 30th November 2013, when most of us Indian’s sat glued to our television sets to watch the Indian mission to Mars to take off, Srinivas Laxman representing a big media house was lucky enough to be in the media center of the spaceport Sriharikota to witness the historic event. A self-confessed space addict (Kangana Ranaut and Narcotics Control Bureau please note) and an aerospace journalist, Srinivas penned his experience during the launch and about the mission in the book titled ‘Indian Martian Odyssey’. This book is a sequel to his book ‘Mars Beacons India: The Story of India’s Mission to Mars’ which covered the pre-launch aspects and released by none other than India’s rocket man and former President of India APJ Abdul Kalam.

This book covers the launch and post-launch aspects of the Mars Mission which we Indians lovingly know it as the MOM mission. To be not left out in the dark, the book does devote a chapter on the genesis of the Indian interplanetary exploration program and it’s so interesting that it deserves the next paragraph.

On 11th May 1999, during the celebrations of the first anniversary of the Pokhran Nuclear tests in the New Delhi’s Ashoka Hotel Auditorium, the then Chairman of the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), posed a rhetoric question “has not the time now come for India to launch a planetary exploration?” And then he went on to reply to his own question by announcing India’s Lunar programme which we now call it as the Chandrayaan mission. Chandrayaan-1 mission lifted off at 6.22 AM on 22nd October 2008, riding on India’s space workhorse Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) in an advanced configuration designated the PSLV-XL. This version is the same one which later on lobbed the MOM spacecraft to Mars. In August 2010, the ISRO set up a study team for a possible mission to Mars. The reason for the selection of Mars as a candidate for next mission was explained by the team leader Dr V Adimurty to the author “it holds the secrets of our past and possibilities of our future”. This explains the enthusiasm of SpaceX founder Elon Musk to send manned missions to Mars.

An interesting aspect of India’s interplanetary expeditions is its orbital chemical analysis which has been subtly brought out by the book. Both Chandrayaan and MOM carry instruments geared for chemical analysis and it has paid off as Chandrayaan-1 was the first to report the evidence of water on the Moon. ISRO’s proposed Shukrayaan-1 mission to Venus too will focus on the chemistry of the planet.

Now coming to slingshot, a generic word now so familiar to us Indians was made famous by the MOM mission. India launched its Mars mission on a proverbial ‘shoestring’ budget and an underpowered rocket. This called for a lofty imagination to make the mission a success. One of the key manoeuvres of MOM’s journey to the red planet involved hurling the spacecraft from one orbit to the other in a slingshot.  This was a challenge as the launcher had left the spacecraft below the expected orbit and corrections had to be made to bring it in the desired orbit and in time when Mars comes closest to the Earth. Not to mention there was a scare when ISRO lost communication with MOM for 15 minutes leaving the scientists in jitters. This aspect has been covered by the book in a comprehensive manner.

The 200 odd page book covers the MOM mission comprehensively with explanations to the critical events like the launch window, the slingshot, the manoeuvres, the spacecraft self start and others. The book also records the international reaction and interest over the Indian Mars expedition project.


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