Monday, 17 November 2008

Space Cowboys and Indians

From the Times of India:
The (indian) tricolour landed on the Moon at 8.31 pm on Friday, opening a new chapter in the history of India’s space exploration.
Other entities which have reached the Moon are the US, former Soviet Union, Japan (albeit via a malfunction that sent its orbiter crashing onto the lunar surface) and the European Space Agency (17 nations). India becomes the fifth member of this club.

The tricolour was painted on all sides of the 29 kg Moon Impact Probe (MIP) which was attached to the top portion of the main lunar orbiter, Chandrayaan.
ISRO officials told TOI that the countdown for the MIP’s much-awaited flight to the surface of the Moon began at 7.47 pm.
Kalam’s rationale for including the MIP was that since Chandrayaan was orbiting the Moon at an altitude of 100 km above the lunar surface, a landing would make India’s presence felt on the Moon’s surface. He believed that if this was done, India could always stake a claim to a portion of the Moon.
I'm old enough to remember the US Ranger lunar impacts starting in 1962, and the Surveyor soft-landing probes that followed them - though not the Soviet Luna E-1A that first delivered the Red Flag to the moon in 1959. I was a bit young then, less than 2.

It seems to me that the expressed ambition of the Indian Space Research Organisation to have a Man in space (not Man on the moon as the Indian media trumpets) by 2015 is realistic and achievable.

The important issue though is that India, like China, is quite literally staking a claim. I don't expect them to ratify the UN Moon Treaty any time soon. None of the other spacefaring nations have, after all.

For more on the same lines, see the history of the Antarctic Treaty System, and the Outer Space Treaty. So far it hasn't resembled the Wild West, but so far, the Earth hasn't been desperate for Energy.

For a reason why it's liable to be a contentious issue - as contentious as exploring for Fossil Fuels in the Antarctic - just look at Helium-3. Of course
The primary objective of Indian Space Research Organization's first lunar probe called Chandrayaan-I, launched on October 22, 2008, was reported in some sources to be mapping the Moon's surface for helium-3-containing minerals.[37] However, this is erroneous; no such objective is mentioned in the project's official list of objectives.[38]
Sure it's erroneous. Anyone want to buy this nice Harbour Bridge I have for sale?


Nica said...

So this is just like it was in centuries past here on earth, Zoe. A new period of exploration, colonization, and exploitation. And how is that any different from other technological competitions in biotech, computer science, etc. I can tell you this. There is very little sense of this kind of competition here in America. Almost none, I would go so far to say. I think we have had it far too easy far too long.

Zoe Brain said...

It's going to come as a rude awakening after the STS is retired in 2010, and the Constellation program folds.

That will leave the US with not only no manned-space capability, but no plans for one. Politically, it may be impossible to even start planning before 2016, with a return to deep space around 2025. Any crewed missions to the Moon or Mars will be blackened as some Republican Boondoggle that will take money from the ever-expanding social security and health departments.

Of course there'll be lots of commercial sub-orbital manned flights and even orbital ones by then. That's an area the US will tend to dominate. I expect many of the flights to be to the Chinese orbital construction facilities, where they'll be busy making stuff to send to their lunar base.