India's second Moon mission Chandrayaan 2 is all set to land on the Moon's surface on September 7. A successful landing implies that India will become only the fourth country after Russia, United States of America and China to achieve a soft-landing on the Moon. However, this mission is unique as it seeks to explore the Moon's South Polar region. On this occasion, Republic TV spoke exclusively to Professor Mayank Vahia, the current Dean of Mathematical Studies at NMIMS who previously taught at the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics, TIFR.
Professor Vahia explained that Chandrayaan 2 has three components - the first one being the satellite that will go around the Moon. He mentioned that the other components were the Vikram lander, which would land on the Moon and the Pragyan Rover, that would drive around on the Moon. While the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) Chairman K Sivan, had said that the most terrifying moments would be when Vikram lands on the Moon, Professor Vahia had a slightly different opinion on that. According to him, the most difficult part was reaching the Moon. To highlight the achievement of reaching the moon, he gave the analogy of hitting a 10 rupee coin at a distance of 10 m, when it is moving at 4000 km per hour. He observed that getting to the location correctly in itself was a huge achievement.
The NMIMS Dean of Mathematical Studies stressed that no space agency in the world apart from India, had managed to do this in the first trial. He stated that half of the missions to the Moon had not succeeded. While he maintained that this was a great achievement, he contended that India had experienced this in the past. Professor Vahia noted that Chandrayaan 1 went to the Moon without any problem.
"This time, what we are trying is to land on the Moon. Chandrayaan 1 had a 29 kg piece that fell on the Moon. This time, we want to make a soft landing. And soft landing is non-trivial because if you let the moon’s gravity pull you down, it will pull you down so fast that it will crash. So, you will have to slow down your vehicle to the extent where it will softly land on the Moon. Now, currently, Vikram orbiter, which has separated from Chandrayaan itself is going at a speed of few 10s of km per second. From there, it must come down to one or two km per second so that it does not fall on the Moon, but gently lands," he opined.
Professor Vahia remarked that a "whole bunch" of technologies had to work properly. He revealed that Chandrayaan 2 was so far that it took more than one second for the signal to come from there to Earth. He therefore, asserted that there was no question of doing anything from the ground or real-time monitoring. The NMIMS Dean of Mathematical Studies added that Chandrayaan and Vikram were on their own.
He observed, "So, as they land, they must identify the location and gradually slow down their speed. And, they must make sure that the place where they are landing does not have an odd boulder. That is not trivial. That’s why the ISRO Chairman says that they are the scariest 15 minutes of his life because as the orbiter lands, it must do it autonomously."
According to him, the orbiter must be on the lookout to ensure that it had the right surface area to land gently. Professor Vahia disclosed that all missions to the Moon, including the Chinese mission, that went to the other side had chosen a very flat surface to land on. On the other hand, he emphasized that Chandrayaan 2 was designed to land on the South Pole, which is rugged because of the mountains. He suggested that it was necessary to be extra careful that the landing position was smooth and soft, to avoid any problem. The NMIMS Dean of Mathematical Studies reiterated that Chandrayaan 2 was more difficult than other landings because it had to land in a very rugged territory.