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ISRO plans for moon-landing mission

Here’s to one significant step that may translate into a giant leap for India’s moon mission. In a departure from the earlier plan, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has decided that its 2007-08 unmanned moon mission will go for gold: a landing.

According to the earlier plan, ISRO’s lunar craft was to orbit the moon for two years, transmitting scientific data to ISRO. The country’s maiden flight to the moon — designated Chandrayaan 1 — is slated for lift-off from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota in 2007-08.

An ISRO spokesperson confirmed the new mission plan to TOI on Wednesday, adding that many scientists were confident about its success. According to the revised flight plan, the lunar orbiter will carry a 25-kg “impacter”.

At a certain point when the craft enters lunar orbit, the “impacter” will detach from the mother craft and head for the moon’s surface.

The cost of the moon programme is about Rs 400 crore and the change in plan is expected to add only marginally to this. The distance between the earth and the moon is about 385,000 km and the flying time will be around five days.

The “impacter” will kick up lunar dust on landing on the moon, whose chemical composition will be analysed by scientists.

“The main purpose of altering the flight plan is to enrich the scientific quality of the moon mission,” said a scientist. He said that by making the very first mission a landing one, scientists would also be able to check whether the equipment in the “impacter” can survive the touchdown, which is expected to be a hard one.

ISRO chief Madhavan Nair has been quoted as saying that a moon landing can demonstrate “certain technologies which can be used for future missions”. The space agency plans two more flights to the moon by 2015.

The revised plan has triggered a debate among space scientists, with a handful saying it’s too ambitious. They recommend a cautious approach, saying that ISRO should adhere to its earlier plan by first sending just an orbiter first. Others express optimism, pointing to ISRO’s track record to back their argument for a landing on the first attempt.