The ground thundered, the sound was deafening. The atmosphere was jubilant and the weather too kept up with it. It was festive celebrations in Sriharikota on 22 July 2019. It was this day when India soared into space with its second lunar probe mission Chandrayaan-2, which is a follow-up mission to Chandrayaan-1 launched in October 2008. Once the mission concludes successfully, India will become the fourth country — after USA, Russia and China — to soft-land spacecraft on the lunar surface. India will also become the second country to land on the Moon’s south polar region.
India launched its first successful lunar probe mission with Chandrayaan 1, which made more than 3400 orbits around the moon, and the mission concluded when the communication with the spacecraft was lost on August 29, 2009. This follow-up mission is ISRO’s first interplanetary mission to land a rover on any celestial body.
Built at a cost of Rs 978 crore, the mission consists of a lunar orbiter, Vikram lander and Pragyan rover. The lander is named after the father of the Indian Space Programme Dr Vikram A Sarabhai. After Vikram’s landing (planned for 7th September 2019), the rover Pragyan will roll out and carry out experiments on the lunar surface for a period of one lunar day which is equal to 14 Earth days. The goal of the mission is to explore the completely unexplored section of the moon – the South Polar Region.
According to details released by ISRO, this mission will help gain a better understanding of the origin and evolution of the Moon by conducting detailed topographical studies, comprehensive mineralogical analyses, and a host of other experiments on the lunar surface. While there, ISRO will also explore discoveries made by Chandrayaan 1, such as the presence of water molecules on the Moon and new rock types with unique chemical composition.
The event saw participation by school children who cheered enthusiastically when the shuttle took off. The air was filled with chants of “Jai Hind” during the launch and continued even after that. There were many enthusiasts who have been to similar launches earlier. They knew exactly where to look and many even helped the newcomers on where to look and what to expect.
Overall, I was thrilled to see the excitement among parents and the effort they took to bring their children to watch the launch. Since this was a working day (a Monday), the participation did get impact for the public who did not manage to purchase the ticket to the viewing gallery. Nevertheless, what I saw was a sizeable number for a working Monday. I hope this continues and we keep up with ISRO’s aim with these space missions which is not just to expand India’s footprint in space but also to inspire a future generation of scientists, engineers and explorers.