India Aims for the Moon
A U.S. scientist reports from the scene of India's first lunar launch.
- By Paul D. Spudis
- AirSpaceMag.com, October 21, 2008
(Page 3 of 5)
A warm, rainy morning (October 22, 7:30 a.m.)
I wake at 3 a.m. Might as well get up, as my alarm would be going off shortly anyway. It’s pitch dark out here in the Indian boondocks. The small television in my room tells me that the countdown is proceeding smoothly. It is now about two and a half hours until launch.
Having heard light constant rain all night as I slept fitfully, I go outside with some anticipation about a weather delay in the launch of Chandrayaan. Outside, it’s calm and beautiful; a last-quarter Moon smiles down on SHAR from directly overhead, and the brighter stars twinkle through some high clouds.
We may just get this thing off today! No time for breakfast as the VIP contingent boards several large buses in the dark. They are taking us out to a special launch viewing site set up especially for us. The drive takes about 20 minutes, even though it cannot be more than a few miles away. In the warm, close dark morning, we pass the occasional stone sign, like one for the “S-Band Precision Tracking Station.” We finally arrive at an old, abandoned rocket assembly tower, a site that has been re-configured into a special viewing area for the launch.
As I wander about this site, I suddenly see the PSLV rocket on its pad, about three miles away. It is floodlit and surrounded by lightning arrestors. We have a clear view of the vehicle and it’s only about an hour and a half until launch. ISRO has set up tents with large video screens, showing the activities of Mission Control. The countdown has gone so smoothly that it makes me slightly worried. Weather is no problem, as we have broken rain clouds at low altitude with hazy cirrus above. Our viewstand should give us a spectacular view of the flight as the rocket curves over the Indian Ocean (which I cannot see from here; dunes block the view).
I strike up a conversation with Raj Chengappa, the managing editor of India Today, a news magazine. He wants to know all about our experiment, the Chandrayaan mission, and the value of the Moon. We have a great time in this discussion, as he is very well informed and we talk about the long term value of the Moon. I give him my lunar “stump speech”—that the Moon is a stepping stone to the rest of the solar system, a source of materials and energy to enable new spaceflight capabilities. Chandrayaan is a key pathfinder in our voyage back to the Moon.
The countdown continues, slowly ticking by until it’s just two minutes to launch before I even realize it. I stop talking to my friends and the people around me. I want to immerse myself in what is about to come.