About 16 years ago, when the idea of India sending a mission to the Moon was in the nascent stage, even with the scientists of the country, Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, the then President of India said, “The exploration of Moon through Chandrayaan will electrify the entire country, particularly young scientists and children”. After being informed that the Indian Space Research Organization is planning to reach our natural satellite in the years to come, he strongly believed that the Lunar Mission would “just a start towards future planetary explorations” in India.
Dr. Kalam said these words while addressing the scientists at ISRO after inspecting their final preparations of PSLV-C5. It was being prepared to launch India’s most advanced remote sensing satellite back them, RESOURCESAT-1.
Call it destiny or happenstance, but almost a year later, the team of ISRO scientist flew down to Delhi to meet President Kalam and explain him about their first mission to the Moon, Chandrayaan-1, which was to orbit it from a distance of 100 km.
After listening to their plan, Dr. Kalam suggested why not land there! M Annadurai, Project Director or Chandrayaan-1, who later also became the Director of Satellite launch wing of ISRO said, “President Kalam asked us why not land on it [Moon] when your spacecraft is going that far all the way.”
After that meeting, Annadurai’s team returned to their base and tweaked their plan to have a Moon Impact Probe (MIP). In his speech on 2015, Annadurai proudly recalled that the Missile Man was “delighted” to hear that finally, India is going to reach the surface of the Moon.
Later, when this MIP landed on the lunar surface, it confirmed the presence of water on the surface of the Moon. This finding was also verified by the Moon Mineralogy Mapper (M3) which was a NASA instrument on Chandrayaan 1.
Motivated by the success of his mission, ISRO scientists decided to another lunar mission. But this time, it had to be bigger, better and grander. Hence, the pan now was to go a step ahead and land a soft rover on the Moon’s surface – a feat only achieved by three countries (Soviet Union, USA and China) so far. The mission was named as Chandrayaan-2 and received the approval of government on September 2008.
In 2009, a year later, when Dr. Kalam was addressing a gathering of ISRO and NASA scientists at the California Institute of Technology, United States, he focused on the fact that the two agencies should come together and deploy a robotic penetrator in Chandrayaan-2 to further investigate the presence of water on the Moon.
He mentioned about this during his interaction with the students in Mumbai in 2009 and said, “I suggested to both ISRO and NASA to work on future mission of Chandrayaan-2 using Moon surface robotic penetrator during my recent visit to California Institute of Technology in the US, where NASA scientists presented the findings of Moon Mineralogy Mapper (M3) to Indian scientists.”
At several other occasions, he stressed on the significance of lunar missions of India. He wanted scientists to explore and study frozen Helium (an excellent source of clean energy) on the Moon. He has always visualized the Moon as an Industrial Centre in space for humanity in the future.
During his speech on the topic the Vision of Space Application in 2006, he said, “Moon is very important because it has the potential to become an intermediate space station between Earth and Mars. Moon can be visualized, to become a space industrial center, particularly with all its frozen helium.”
Explaining the importance of exploration of Helium on the Moon, he believed that in the future, it will be most sought after resource, when the world switches to the production of energy through nuclear fusion. “This energy produced using helium in the Moon can also energise the vehicles for transporting materials from the Moon to man’s future habitats in Mars and to his natural abode, the Earth,” said Dr. Kalam.
Fast forwarding to 2019, on July 15, ISRO is all set to launch its second mission to the lunar surface, Chandrayaan-2 which is till date, the most ambitious and complicated mission of the agency. If successful, it would make India the second country which has soft-landed near the South Polar Region of the Moon, after China which achieved this feat in January 2019. The learnings from this mission will be very critical for the Gaganyaan mission of ISRO which aims to send humans to space by 2021-22.
Origin of this mission can also be traced from one of the speeches of Dr. Kalam. In an address to ISRO scientists, he once shared his dream about the space mission of the country. He said, “I visualise a scene, in the year 2021, when I will be 90 years old and visiting the Sriharikota spaceport for boarding the space plane so that I can reach another planet and return safely as one of the passengers” on a lighter but visionary note at the end of his speech.
If Dr. Kalam was alive today, he would have definitely clinched his fist in the air in delight as he did when India successfully launched Chandrayaan-1 in 2008.
Travel to another planet as we travel to another country for humans? Well, it is still decades away.
But “you have to dream before your dream comes true”, is what Dr. Kalam told students across the country and even abroad, with a characteristic shining smile and sparkle in his eyes.
He would add, “Dreams, one must always have them.”