India Actively Contemplates
Human Lunar Mission. If
India's Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee (78) has his way,
the next astronaut to leave footprints on the Moon could be an
Indian citizen. Although scientists project a human landing to
be at least a decade away, they are actively contemplating it.
An unpiloted probe to the Moon is planned for 2007. The 350 kg
orbiting spacecraft would map a previously obscure part of the
Moon's surface and collect data. It may even answer whether the
Moon originally broke off from the Earth or was pulled into its
orbit. To answer critics who wonder why, with almost half of
the billion-plus population living in dire poverty, India is
spending billions of pounds on space exploration, scientists
say huge benefits have been derived in telecoms and weather forecasting
compared to the 8 billion pounds spent on defense. ISRO chairman
Kasturirangan says India's space program runs on a shoestring
(US$450-500 million) and the Moon is a long-term investment.
India's plan to put a human on the Moon is partly inspired by
its rivalry with China, which some experts believe could lead
to a new space race reminiscent of the US / Soviet Union lunar
rivalry. It would also be a patriotic coup for the ruling party.
Nearing the end of his political career, Vajpayee is looking
well ahead as his fascination with the Moon steadily increases.
NASA to Announce Jupiter Mission. A story posted on SpaceRef.com by Keith Cowing suggests
that a mission to Jupiter by the end of this decade will figure
prominently in NASA's future plans for planetary exploration.
Details are expected to be announced 3 February when NASA unveils
its FY 2004 budget. Dubbed "Jupiter Tour" the mission
is slated for the 2009 / 2010 timeframe and will focus on detailed
long-term studies of the 40 (or possibly more) Jovian moons.
The mission would use new nuclear propulsion technology which
will be developed under NASA's Prometheus program. The sophisticated
Jupiter Tour spacecraft would be capable of "jumping"
from orbit around one jovian moon to another during its mission.
The cost of the project is estimated to be at least $3 billion
through FY 2008. In an interesting parallel, Arthur C. Clarke,
the science fiction writer and space visionary who predicted
the geostationary communications satellite and wrote about humans
visiting the Moon long before it happened, also wrote about humanity's
trip to the Jupiter system in 2001:A Space Odyssey and
2010:Odyssey 2. NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe, will
hold a press conference in NASA HQ on 3 February at 3 PM EST.
Budget documents will be available after 2 PM EST via links on
the Internet at: http://www.nasa.gov.
Apollo 11 Artifacts on Sale. Historic Space, an online
venue for rare astronaut autographs and artifacts, released Thursday
the "Apollo 11 Acrylic", a lucite encased section of
coldplate removed from the Apollo 11 Command Module Columbia.
The triangle of Titanium-alloy coldplate, which acted as a thermal
and radiation shield for the command module's critical systems
during its flight to the Moon and back, goes on sale for the
introductory price of $395. Originally auctioned in May 2001,
the 20 by 18 cm coldplate was consigned by Mascoutah Aerospace
Museum in Illinois. The plate was removed after flight for testing,
according to the museum's agent James Fisher. The item was part
of the museum's collection of flown Apollo artifacts until it
was sold. Besides the coldplate, a new selection of autograph
and lunar artifacts is also put on sale online. Among the new
additions are Apollo 8 and Apollo 17 crew autographs, a rare
John Young Gemini spacesuit uninscribed portrait, and matted
displays featuring the autograph of the first Moonwalker Neil
Armstrong. Other pieces include the autographs of all 12 Moonwalkers
and 24 astronauts who flew on the Apollo missions, and a film
label removed from a canister flown on Apollo 11. For more info
Moon Movie Screening in Wales Denied as Hoax. A film of
the dark side of the Moon supposedly captured by cosmonaut Pavel
Belyayev in 1965 was hampered by technical interference in the
northern Welsh county of Snowdonia. The Real Institute of Conwy
Valley claimed that as part of Wales Cinema Day, they teamed
up with scientists from Geneva and China in a bid to project
the 30-minute lunar movie using a 'secret Chinese device that
produced a beam strong enough to travel to the Moon.' Despite
repeated denial of the Super 8 footage by the Russian Aviation
Agency and Military Space Forces, Real Institute spokesman Iwan
Williams claims, "It was a genuine attempt. It's up to readers
to make up their own mind to determine whether it was true."
Contrary to the claim, astronomer Sir Patrick Moore said that
the Institute was leading people "up the garden path."