Saturday, February 15, 2014

Update on Mission to Mars

A quick update on our own Mission to Mars - the Mangalyaan. When we last saw, on 1st December, Mangalyaan had successfully taken turn towards Mars. On last Wednesday, 12th February, it completed 100 days in space. It has traveled about 19 crore kilometers out of its 68 crore kilometers journey so far. All instruments are functioning normally. The signal from the spacecraft now takes 55 seconds to reach earth.
Mangalyaan with complete its journey on 24th September, when it will be inserted into Mars orbit. I will keep you posted.
Source: Press release by ISRO.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Wake up Jade

In the last twenty days, science enthusiasts experienced an excitement usually reserved for watchers of Pixar films like Wall-E. In such movies, there is a machine that behaves like a person. Viewer fall in love with the machine. An evil power attacks and the machine is broken. We watch, filled with grief, the final moments of the machine. And suddenly, the machine moves its arms – it’s alive!
In December 2013, China sent a machine to Moon. It is called Yutu, or Jade Rabbit, after the Chinese moon goddess. It even has its own account on Weibo, the Chinese version of Twitter. Yutu’s name and cute tweets on Weibo gave it a human like personality. Chinese people grew fond of their Yutu.
On Moon, a day or night lasts for 354 hours, or about 14 earth days. Yutu worked properly for the first lunar day. In the 14 day long lunar night, it was put on sleep mode. It woke up on 11th January 2014, and started afresh for the second lunar day.
But something went wrong as the long and tiring day came to an end. On 25th January, Yutu developed a fault and stopped communicating with its Chinese home. The Weibo account posted some touching messages –
"I thought I could hop around here for three months, but if this trip ends prematurely, I'm not afraid,"
"I'll tell everyone a little secret: I'm actually not that sad. I'm just on my own adventure and like any protagonist, I have encountered a little problem. Goodnight, Earth. Goodnight, humans."
Since the communication was broken, scientists could not properly put it to sleep during the lunar night. It was supposed to contact home after waking up on Wednesday, 12th February. No signal came. The Chinese space agency declared Yutu as inoperative. Everybody who was following it felt sad for the unfortunate end.
And then suddenly, yesterday (13th February), a signal from Yutu was caught by some amateur space observers. ‘Yutu has come back to life!’ declared the spokesperson of the Chinese lunar program.
Delighted admirers cheered Yutu's coming to life on internet.
"It's alive!! The rabbit is still alive!! The rabbit's awake!! It's really awake!!", one Yutu lover wrote on Weibo.
It is to the credit of the Chinese space agency that it has been able to get involvement of common people in what is strictly a scientific project. The agency however does not put much information in the open, and so we may not fully know what actually happened to Yutu. But it was a good movie!