Tag Archives: moon

Chandrayaan-2 to the moon!

On Monday 22nd of July 2019, the Indian Space Agency ISRO has successfully launched the moon probe Chandrayaan-2 into Earth orbit. Where Apollo 11 took a few days to reach the moon, Chandrayaan-2 will take at least 7 weeks and is scheduled for landing on September 6. Why does it take them so long to get to the moon this time and what will Chandrayaan-2 be doing on the moon anyway?

Chandrayaan 2 and its lander Vikram and rover Pragyan

Illustration of Vikram lander and Pragyan rover on the lunar surface. Image: ISRO

Orbiting

The Apollo program was designed to transport humans and Chandrayaan-2 is a robotic mission. This means it doesn’t need the quickest route to the moon. Apollo was using the heaviest rockets ever built to get to the moon to do just that, ISRO used considerably lighter rockets, also a more cost efficient way. Chandrayaan-2 will first spent 23 days in Earth’s orbit before jettison to the moon. While in orbit, it will gain speed to make the long journey to the moon.

Landing close to the aspired landing date is crucial. Chandrayaan-2 will have to make up for lost time as the launch has been postponed by a week, caused by a suspected helium leak. ISRO is however confident that this shouldn’t be a problem and has anticipated a delay in their plans. This means it will spend less time orbiting the moon than originally planned. Then, if all goes well, in the first week of September, the orbiter will release the lander called Vikram to the surface. One of the prime objectives is the demonstration of a soft landing on the moon and operate a robot rover from there. 

The lander Vikram

Vikram is named after Vikram Sarabhai who is regarded to be the father of the Indian space program. This mission is of great importance for the Indian Space Program so this is significant. It has a camera attached but will also measure seismologic activities in the landing area. It will also measure temperatures and the variation and density on the lunar surface plasma. Also, it carries NASA’s Laser Retroreflector Array (LRA). This device can measure precisely the distance between the reflector and any orbiter around the moon. The LRA will remain operative after Vikram’s scientific operations end, they will last about 14 days.  

Vikram also carries the moon rover Pragyan, which means wisdom in Sanskrit. The rover is expected to last one lunar day, or 14 earth days, and operates on solar power. However, the rover is able to store power and has a sleep / wake mechanism so it is possible that the rover will be operative after 14 days, when the night ends on their place on the moon. Both Pragryan and Vikram weren’t designed to survive these cold conditions at night. Hence the importance of the landing date. How later the lander reaches the moon surface, the less time there is for the planned experiments. Pragyan will send its data to Vikram who then sends this data back to earth. 

On the moon surface

The rover is expected to drive 500 meters. It has a speed of 1 cm per second. The rover will map the lunar surface near the landing site, which is close to the south pole of the moon. A place relatively unexplored. Together with the orbiter its goal is to give a more detailed impression of that region of the moon. Apart from a camera it will use lasers and xray to do this. 

It’s not the first time India landed on the moon, however their earlier attempt in 2008 with Chandrayaan-1 crash landed. The soft landing attempt is therefore one of the important parts of this mission, also as it serves as a test for future missions to Mars. This doesn’t mean Chandrayaan-1 failed. It remained operative for 10 months and has detected signs of water on the moon. Hard to say it failed indeed. Chandrayaan-2 will undoubtedly secure India and ISRO their place in deep space exploration. Chandrayaan-2 has a relatively short lifespan but considering the results of their previous moon mission, the prospects are incredibly good. 

Soft landing

It may take Chandrayaan-2 a long time to reach the moon, but it will do so in an efficient way. It will hopefully demonstrate a soft landing on the moon around 6 or 7 September (2019). The lander will function as a transmission center between earth and the rover which will map the south pole region of the moon. It has 14 days to do so before the cold night kicks in. We can only hope they’ll exceed life expectancy and will make amazing discoveries. Just like their older sibling 11 years ago. 

 

My partial lunar eclipse

July 16 2019. It’s the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 launch and the night of a partial lunar eclipse. This is cool stuff! But as the day progresses, I more and more convince myself that I should pass the lunar eclipse. The forecast said cloudy anyway. In the evening the clouds break and I still don’t bother because I wouldn’t be able to see much in the city anyway. It’s 10:45PM and I start watching part 2 of Chasing The Moon. Well, my brain thinks I’m watching, but I’m probably partially asleep. Then, the phone rings. What the hell? I pick up and it’s my partner who is currently in the south of France, visiting her mother. Is it worth watching the eclipse, because right now she’s being eaten alive by mosquitoes. I tell her it should be. And I decide to go outside anyway.

partial lunar eclipse

How I saw the partial lunar eclipse 16 July 2019. Picture by Mel Marcik

The train station

I live next to a small train station. It’s higher than the streets so logically if I stand on the platform, I should be able to see the moon. Just like the total lunar eclipse which I watched there in the freezing cold in the early morning. I get up on the platform and just above the former station hall, now pub, and above the highway that runs parallel to the tracks, I can see the partial lunar eclipse. She doesn’t have a red glow like I expected. Behind me a woman sits on a bench waiting for her train. Another man comes on the platform, it look like he is going to stand close to me but I guess my annoyed aura scares him off.

I stare at the moon, and sometimes at the phone, being in contact with my partner far away. My eyes start to hurt. The station is very bright, and I have the squint between the lights to see the moon. The platform is more lit than my very own living room. I can hear the cars on the highway. I hear the cars down on the street below. A tram passes. I hear people laugh. At the other platform a man is making a phone call and walks up and down the platform. More laughter downstairs. Then the train arrives and the people get in, some people get out. The conductor looks at me and asks me if I join the train. I shake my head, thank him. He nods, blows his whistle and the train takes off.

The Milky Way

I sit down on the bench and continue to stare at the moon. I pick up my phone and look at my Sky 3D app. According to the map I’m looking straight at the Milky Way. All I see is an overly lit platform, the train from the opposite direction arriving, the noise shields of the highway. I can see the moon partial blocked by the sun. I can actually see Jupiter. My partner says she sees Jupiter too and I wave at Jupiter. I don’t tell her this. We exchange some spiritual tinted messages. Actually, I complain about the noise and that I can’t see the Milky Way. But what I mean was, I love this city but I need space. And quiet.

The plan

I sit on the bench a bit longer and decide to head back home. In the South of France my partner already went to bed. I arrive home to a paused documentary and I check how many MBs I have left on my data plan and I decide I watch this part tomorrow during my commute which I start on that very same platform. Then I pick up my laptop and write, I write this down. Because I know I can accomplish things, and I can do awesome things ans be good at the things I love doing. If only I wasn’t so lazy. I just want to stop being lazy. So I write this now and not tomorrow or later this week. Or never.

But what I really want is to live in a place where it’s actually worth it to look up. To actually see the stars and to enjoy the wonders of space without trams ringing, cars rushing by and people laughing in the streets. I want to look up at the stars and be completely taken by the moment, to be at peace. To breath fresh air and hear an owl in the distance. Or maybe an elk. To look up while it’s pitch dark and when the season comes to see auroras. The city is wearing me out. But I still love this city. I will leave this city some day but only to have that place in space. I know I can accomplish things and I sure will accomplish this thing. The partial lunar eclipse just confirmed this.

The unsung hero of Apollo 11 – Michael Collins

We all know that Neil Armstrong was the first person to step on the moon. We also know he was followed by Buzz Aldrin. Most people however will fail to name the third astronaut. Some may even forget there was a third person onboard. Command Module Pilot Michael Collins is the forgotten Apollo 11 astronaut. He had the more nerve wracking task of them three. No he didn’t walk on the moon, but he knew that it was possible that he had to leave his fellow astronauts behind on the moon. 

Michael Collins on flight in Apollo 11. Picture NASA.

Before Apollo 11

Michael Collins already had been in space before taking off in Apollo 11. Three years prior to that famous take off, on July 18, 1966, he and John Young took off with Gemini 10. Gemini had to rendevouz with two Agena Target Vehicles and Collins had to perform two EVA’s (spacewalks), the second one on his own. He became the first person to do two spacewalks during one mission. He also became the first person to visit another space vehicle in orbit. These are quite some accomplishments, all prior to the Apollo program. 

Collins was training already for Apollo 9 but started to notice that his legs weren’t working as they should be and that his knees started to give away. He went to see the doctor, even though he didn’t want to because he knew what this meant. And indeed, he had to undergo surgery for cervical disc herniation and had to wear a neck brace for three months. He was removed from the Apollo 9 crew but as he had trained well, he was made capsule communicator for Apollo 8. There he directly communicated with the Apollo 8 crew during their historic flight which brought us the famous earth rise picture. The recovery went well and he was assigned to Apollo 11, the mission that would, if the previous didn’t fail, land on the moon. 

Training

Michael Collins wasn’t to land on the moon. He often trained separated and differently from Aldrin and Armstrong. It must have been tough to prepare mostly alone. That said, his fellow astronauts may have trained together and relied on each other blindly, they never became close in a more friendship kind of way. Strange for two people who would share this once in a lifetime moment together, travelling in quite the small spaceship. Collins also wrote about 18 different rendezvous possibilities, also those that failed. That book ran a 117 pages. He also designed the mission patch. 

His main training was of course operating the Columbia module. He had to make sure the module would remain in orbit around the moon, run system checks, perform moon observations and stay in contact with mission control. But he also had to make sure that Armstrong and Aldrin not just landed safely, but he had the task of taking them back home as well. And if anything should go wrong, he was instructed not to be the hero but return home. Alone. 

The risks

We all know how the mission ended. Armstrong and Aldrin landed safely on the moon, spent 21 hours on the surface and made it back to the command module Columbia and went home safely. We know that, but they weren’t so sure. The lunar module had been tested over and over again and the astronauts had trained numerous times. But they were never able to do it on the moon or similar circumstances. No one knew exactly what these circumstances would be exactly because no one had ever been there. 

If the thrusters weren’t working properly, Armstrong and Aldrin could have ended up in lower orbit around the moon for all eternity without Collins being able to do anything to get them on board. Or they would crash back on the surface. Another possibility was that the Eagle would miss it’s target and shoot into space to Pete knows where. Either of those scenarios, the two astronauts would survive until the oxygen ran out, unless other malfunctions occurred or madness had driven them to other drastic measures. There was a 50/50 chance, the three astronauts calculated among each other, that only Collins would make it home. A terrible thought to carry around. 

Feeling lonely

It weighed heavy on Collins’ mind but he performed his duties with great professionalism. But he admits that releasing the Eagle to the lunar surface was a nerve wracking experience. He told the other two to remain in constant contact with them in fear of losing them. The communication was broken 30 times while Collins was on the far side of the moon. Contact to ground control was also broken during that time. 3 billion people on the other side of the moon, and who knows what on Collins’ side. These were the hardest time for Collins, he was indeed the loneliest man in the world, a figure of speech. Anything could happen during that period, and he just wouldn’t know about it. 

The moment Armstrong and Aldrin left the Lunar surface were the hardest. This was it. This was the moment that would determine whether Collins would fly home alone or as a team. He wasn’t the only one aware of this. President Nixon had a speech ready in case the two moon walkers wouldn’t return home. “Fate has ordained that the men who went to the moon to explore in peace will stay on the moon to rest in peace.” it starts. It’s a beautiful and respectful speech which luckily never had to be used. 

Forgotten astronaut

No one was more relieved than Collins. He said that he would have fulfilled his duty and would have returned home, rather than taking other drastic measures, which wouldn’t have been a strange thing to do under these circumstances. He would have been known as the astronaut that survived the fateful Apollo 11 mission, the survivor of men’s first exploration of an alien world. Now he is the forgotten astronaut. I think it’s safe to say that Michael Collins wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.