Chandrayaan 2 Landing: Modi Moonwalk, The descent into history

MUMBAI: By the time the Free Press Journal lands at your doorstep, India would have completed its descent into history.

The lander Vikram -- a little bigger than a huge dining table – would have made a soft landing near the south pole of the Moon (slated for 1.55 am on Saturday). Until now, the landing on the Moon by the US, Russia and China were done near the equatorial region.

The moon's craters in the South Pole have been untouched by sunlight for billions of years - offering an undisturbed record of the solar system's origins. Its permanently shadowed craters are estimated to hold nearly 100 million tons of water.

‘‘This mission is unique, it's heading towards the south pole of the Moon. And that is where we think there might be frozen water,’’ said former NASA astronaut Jerry Linenger who is in India to take part in the Chandrayaan-2 live telecast on the National Geographic Channel.

Incidentally, the US is hoping to send a manned mission to the Moon in 2024 and it is likely to select a site close to water – the essence of life. So the Chandrayaan-2 helps not only India, it actually helps all space-faring nations and may eventually lead to a permanent human presence on the Moon.

When the FPJ edition went to bed, the lander Vikram was in an orbit that was 35 km from the lunar surface; it is from this point that the final descent began. When reports last trickled in, Vikram had separated from its orbiting mothership and performed two manoeuvres to lower its altitude for a perfect touchdown between 1:30 am and 2:30 am on Saturday.

But the soft landing – akin to placing of a baby on a hard surface -- is just the beginning of India’s exploration of the dark side of the Moon. Once the final touchdown takes place, the rover Pragyan will roll down the ramp (between 5:30 am and 6:30 am).

Thereon, the Pragyan driven by a robot will start its 14-day existence around the Moon's South Pole. It will carry out extensive research, including a thorough mapping of the moon's resources, looking for presence of water and clicking high-resolution images. One of the tests includes measuring the seismic activity on the Moon.

The Moon will complete one lunar cycle by the time Pragyan’s journey is over. The orbiter -- which is 140 km above the Moon -- will continue to orbit for the next two years.

The landing is the culmination of a 384,000 km space journey of Chandrayaan-2, which was launched from Satish Dhawan Space Centre on July 22. "We're going to land at a place where no one else has gone before,’’ said the ISRO chief on Friday as the countdown began for the landing.

Given that ISRO's budget is less than 1/20th of NASA’s, the Rs. 1,000-crore moon mission has cost less than Hollywood blockbuster 'Avengers: Endgame.'

15 MINUTES OF TERROR: It will take the Vikram 15 terrifying minutes to land. It will start its final descent 35 km above the Moon; around 11 minutes later, it will be 5 km above the lunar, moving at a speed of 331 km/hr. In the next 89 seconds, Vikram will hover at 400 m for 12 seconds. About one minute later, it will hover at 100 m for 12 seconds to decide the landing site.

WHY THE SOUTH POLE: The Moon's craters in the South Pole have been untouched by sunlight for billions of years - offering an undisturbed record of the solar system's origins. Its permanently shadowed craters are estimated to hold nearly 100 million tons of water.

GODSPEED: The six-wheeled Rover, which will come down the ramp in Vikram, will be driven by a robot. It will travel at a speed of 1 cm per second and carry experiments for one lunar day, equal to around 14 Earth days.

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