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Interviews

Prasun Desai - "ISRO IS WORLDCLASS"

"In a very short time ISRO has become WORLD CLASS being able to routinely launch satellites into earth orbit."
Dr. Prasun Desai, Acting Director for Crosscutting Capability Demonstrations, NASA


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Image: NASA


From Vegam in Gujarat to the Red Planet. He comes from a family which grows mangoes and chikoos in Vegam. He is India-born PRASUN DESAI, who emigrated to the US at a very early age and has been with NASA. He was one of the key players in Nasa’s crucial entry descent and landing of Spirit and Opportunity on the surface of Mars. In an interview to ISS, PRASUN TOLD SRINIVAS LAXMAN:  "From what I have read of Isro it is a very capable agency. In a very short time it has become WORLD CLASS being able to routinely launch satellites into earth orbit."

Prasun spoke about the challenges of the Curiosity mission to Mars. Curiosity is scheduled to launch by an Atlas V541 rocket between November 25,2011 and December 18,2011 and touch down on Mars’ Gale Crater between August 6,2012 and August 20,2012. Its main mission----study habitability.

Please read the rest of the article to know Dr. Prasun's view on various topics...


Q. Six minutes of terror. This was the term used for the final landing on Mars by Spirit and Opportunity. What will be the equivalent term for Curiosity?

Although the Curiosity entry, descent, and landing is more involved than that for Spirit and Opportunity, the same issues are present trying to land it. Curiosity will take a similar 6-7 minutes
to land, so you can use the similar reference of 6 Minutes of Terror.

Q. Curiosity will slam the Martian atmosphere at a whopping velocity of 13,000 mph and coming down to 1000 mph before final touchdown. What according to you are the dangers in such a scenario?

The difficulties are similar to all previous landing. In order to reduce the velocity, all sequence of events have to be successful. The capsule must produce sufficient drag to dissipate the high
energy of entry, the parachute must inflate properly to slow Curiosity to allow for sufficient time for all the remaining events to occur. The retro-rockets must fire at the appropriate time to allow  for a soft touchdown. All events have to perform correctly the first time. There are no second chances.


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The figure above shows the location of the 10 science instruments on the rover. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech


Ashwin Vasavada, Deputy Project Scientist - NASA

"Curiosity, is to assess whether Mars was ever a habitable planet, that is, capable of supporting microbial life"
- Ashwin Vasavada


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Indian-American Ashvin Vasavada is the deputy project scientist for Nasa’s Mars Science Laboratory which is currently slated for lift off on November 25,2011 from Cape Canaveral. In this exclusive interview to SRINIVAS LAXMAN he talks about the mission.


" In the last decade, planetary exploration has become truly global.  As a second generation Indian-American, I'm happy that India has had its share of success.  While competition is useful in its own ways, I believe that the future will bring collaborations between many space-faring nations simply because we've done many of the easy things, and the difficult things will require working together.  Mars exploration is one of those difficult things, especially future goals of returning samples to Earth or sending humans to Mars.’’ - Vasavada.

What is the exact type of science which MSL will focussing on ?

The goal of the Mars Science Laboratory and its rover, Curiosity, is to assess whether Mars was ever a habitable planet, that is, capable of supporting microbial life.  In order to do this, we explore a local region on Mars that has evidence of a past history of liquid water and that appears to have preserved a record of the geology and environmental history for us to study today. 

The landing site at Gale Crater contains a 5-km mound of stratified rock, with variations in mineralogy and geology as one progresses upward from the base of the mound.  By analogy with stratified rock formations on Earth, such as the Grand Canyon, we hope to find a record of changing environmental conditions over a period of Martian history.


How will it be different from the previous missions---Spirit, Opportunity and Phoenix ?

MSL is a quantum leap in the robotic exploration of Mars.  The car-sized Curiosity rover carries a six-foot robotic arm with a jackhammer drill at the end of it.  Rock powder acquired by the drill is shaken through a sieve and then delivered to two analytical laboratory instruments located within the rover that precisely determine its chemical, mineralogical, and isotopic composition.  

In addition to sampling rocks for the first time, MSL benefits from a new landing system that delivers the rover to within 10 km of a chosen target.  We could not place the rover within driving distance of the Gale Crater mountain without this new system.




Mars Curiosity Takes First Baby Steps

Naveen Jain, Co-founder of Moon Express

"The Indian space programme is on the right track"
"India has the smartest people on earth and I think India has the best space leaders to a lead a mission to the moon, the International Space Station and other planets"

says 53-year NAVEEN JAIN, co-founder and chairman of Moon Express which is participating in the Google Lunar X prize. Jain spoke to SRINIVAS LAXMAN.

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Mumbai: India-born Naveen Jain, who graduated from IIT Rourkee said that his company, the Moon Express, which is based in the US, is seriously exploring the possibility of launching the world’s first private lunar mission from India.

Moon Express is participating in the Google Lunar X prize. The challenge calls for a private-funded flight to the moon to compete in launching, landing, and then travelling about 500 metres across the surface of the moon with a robot and transmitting images to the earth. The prize money for the group which makes it first to the moon is 30 million dollars.


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Moon express logo

Speaking to Indian Space Station (ISS) on Saturday morning from San Fransisco, he said:

{niftybox} " we will be delighted to use an Indian rocket since the launch costs are comparatively inexpensive. If this plan materializes ours will be the first private company in the world to use an Indian rocket "
{/niftybox}

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