SCIENCE TRIBUNE Thursday, August 24, 2000, Chandigarh, India

India sets its sights on moon

by Radhakrishna Rao 

NDIA took its first step into space in November, 1963, by launching a 9-kg rocket from a science research facility at Thumba, a fishing hamlet in southern India. It has now set its sights on the moon.

Perils of BCN warfare
by Sarabjeet Singh

German joke says that “a good tactical weapon is that which lands on Germany.” Someone said this because Germans might be having a good defence system or he found their annual budget too much defence oriented! Anyway ... we all know this fact to attain supremacy over the other countries each nation is trying to collect more and more destructive weapons.






India sets its sights on moon
by Radhakrishna Rao 

INDIA took its first step into space in November, 1963, by launching a 9-kg rocket from a science research facility at Thumba, a fishing hamlet in southern India.

It has now set its sights on the moon.

“The India space agency has already completed preliminary studies and will be able to send a mission to the moon within five years of getting the green signal,” Mrs Vasundara Raje Scindia, Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office, told Parliament on August 2.

“The recent discovery of water on the lunar surface has rekindled the worldwide interest in the moon,” she said, adding that the Indian lunar mission would boost the country’s scientific pursuits, particularly in space navigation and robotics.

The Bangalore-based Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) says it has both the human expertise and technological competence to send a probe to the moon by 2005. Its chairman, Dr Krishnaswami Kasturirangan, had on many occasions, called for India to explore univestigated aspects of the moon.

Dr P. S. Goel, Director of the ISRO Satellite Centre in Bangalore — assured of a key role in developing India’s lunar spacecraft says: “The Indian lunar mission will provide us with an excellent opportunity of exploring space. So far we have received an overwhelming response.”

Government clearance remains the key. The project is expected to cost Rs 3.5 billion, and there are many areas competing for such money. At the same time, India is already a nuclear and space power — and the urge to probe the moon is considered a natural expression of scientific maturity and technological excellence.

“I believe the 21st century is going to be the century of planetary explorations,” Dr Kasturirangan told India Today magazine in July.

“There is no way humans are going to be satisfied with just building satellites for communications, remote sensing, navigation or a space station. There is going to be a deeper outreach into the cosmos. Many countries would subsequently by thinking of colonising the celestial bodies.”

These sentiments are a far cry from the vision of the founders of modern Indian science. More than three decades back, Vikram A. Sarabhai, the architect of the Indian space programme, declared: “We don’t have the fantasy of competing with the economically advanced nations in the exploration of the moon or planets or manned flights.

“But we are convinced that if we are to play a meaningful role nationally and in the community of nations, we must be second to none in the application of advanced technologies to the real problem of man and society which we find in our country.”

ISRO says it has the option of sending either a flyby mission or an orbiter. The latter would allow scientists to study the moon at close quarters by orbiting it instead of flying past.

For now, building a spacecraft for soft landing on the lunar surface to collect, process and transmit data back, is ruled out as a complicated and costly exercise.

Aerospace experts in Bangalore, familiar with the Indian space programme, say the cheapest and most feasible option for ISRO will be send up an orbiter.

While the Ahmedabad-based Physical Research Laboratory, the cradle of space science research in India, is well equipped to fabricate the experimental package for the mission, the ISRO Satellite Centre with its most advanced infrastructure, is capable of designing and developing a lunar orbiter — entirely indigenously.

The ISRO Satellite Centre already has expertise in building state-of-the-art spacecraft for communications, broadcasting, resources prospecting and weather watching.

ISRO’s highly successful Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV), which simultaneously launched three satellites in May,including a German and South Korean satellite, could be modified to send a 530-kg spacecraft as a flyby mission or a 350-kg spacecraft to orbit the moon.

“Preliminary analysis shows that India’s PSLV is capable of sending spacecraft to the moon,”says Space India, an official organ of ISRO.

Alternatively, India’s cryogenic fuel-driven Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV), now being readied for its orbital odyssey sometime next year, can send an 850-to-950-kg spacecraft as a flyby mission to the moon or a 600-kg orbiter.

While ISRO says its research will focus on the unexplored areas of the moon, some scientists disagree.

“Why don’t we work on something pathbreaking? Why do we need to do something that has already been done 30 years ago and many times over,” says Dr H.S. Mukunda, Chairman of the Aerospace Department of the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore.

ISRO scientists argue that the possible presence of water — essential to sustain life — could fuel an international race to reinvestigate the moon. Moreover, the abundance of helium, considered the cleanest fuel, is an added reason for India to study the moon.

The believe other key research areas could include investigation of the particle and radiation environment around the moon and the detailed mapping of the lunar surface and atmosphere with high resolution spectroscopic photography, which give clear, detailed, three-dimensional pictures.

India’s scientific community and public feel that just as America’s manned mission to the moon changed the direction and complexion of industrial and technological growth in the USA, a lunar probe could be just the shot in the arm Indian science and technology is looking for.

ISRO regards such a probe as a pathfinder for future missions by India to explore the outer world — a new frontier in the new millennium. — (GEMINI)Top


Perils of BCN warfare
by Sarabjeet Singh

A German joke says that “a good tactical weapon is that which lands on Germany.” Someone said this because Germans might be having a good defence system or he found their annual budget too much defence oriented! Anyway ... we all know this fact to attain supremacy over the other countries each nation is trying to collect more and more destructive weapons. As the stocks of weapons and war-related items increase day by day in each nation on the globe, it will ultimately raise a question: “Of what use these weapons and bombs are to us if they kept lying unused in the stores?” The answer to this question is either use them or dispose them, (as CTBT says). And finally ... no one likes to dispose off those costly and sophisticated bombs, which have been built after years of hard work!

For example, take the case of present day-Iraq’s favourite-chemical and biological warfare methods. Artificial plague and poisons are the most economical and also the most difficult to control once released. Therefore micro-organisms are carefully bred in the laboratories or modified by genetic engineering (even up to that extent that they attack people of certain race or certain selected crops of enemy country!) to create deadly news strains of diseases (and Iraq’s stock of bacteria like anthrax and bacillus botulinus could be in thousands of litres!). But these are not “tactical” weapons since the diseases can easily spread back to the user nation too!

Chemical bombs contain large amounts of highly poisonous gases or volatile liquids, but they are less effective than biological weapons as they do not spread like micro-organisms. It was estimated that hundreds of tons of a highly lethal nerve gas called ‘VX gas’ is stockpiled in the USA alone. And then there are improved versions too such as “binary nerve gas” in which two relatively harmless chemicals become more than 50 times as deadly as cyanide, when mixed together! These nerve gases can enter the body through skin too and then follows sweating, vomiting, filling of lungs with mucus, paralysis and lastly the death. For this only a small dose — in micrograms is sufficient! Other poisons which have been researched in Russia for years — are derived from fungi called mycotoxins and cause immediate fatal bleeding from all the body orifices.

Then comes the category of nuclear weapons which in theory are simple devices but actually very very difficult to build! The detonation of a uranium (U-235) or plutonium (Pu-239) — both very costly and rare elements — bomb depends on putting together the pieces of U-235 or Pu-239 (so that their combined mass becomes supercritical) with supersonic speeds (which can only be done by first exploding conventional explosives from all sides) or otherwise this bomb will simply melt away! Fusion bombs such as H-bombs require putting together atoms of deuterium with high speeds, pressures and temperatures (which can only be reached by first exploding a fission-bomb). Many of today’s H-bombs come in above 100-Megaton package!

As far as neutron-bomb is considered it is essentially a small H-bomb in which fission-bomb trigger is made smaller and physical explosion reduced ... only allowing flash of neutrons and other harmful rediations to spread around-destroying only the living things! We must remember that all above life destroying items existed only in the science-fiction books just 50 years back. And today’s fictional weapons such as ‘memory erasing gases’, ‘psychedelic (drugs) bombs and ‘graser’ beams would definitely be ready in hand before world war III (it will also be the last war!!)

Even if mankind (a tiny proportion) fortunately manages to survive after such a “doomsday”, it will surely give way to the post-war conditions of poor mother Earth. The critical balance which nature has maintained could tip off in either direction. For example the heat produced by such weapons could increase moisture content, COz, and temperature of air to cause further absorption of much more heat (increased greenhouse effect) and so on, finally to the stage of melting of all ice on earth and drowning of half of the world. Or the clouds of dust remaining for years will prevent sunlight reaching the surface and lowering the temperature to promote the formation of more and more ice. When the clouds settle ... the entire surface of earth which is now white due to ice will reflect away almost all the heat causing more fall of temperature!

This is what is called MAD, Mutual Assured Destruction. It seems that it is the ‘Social-animal’ (human being) which should be placed on top of ‘The list of endangered species!’



by J.P. Garg

1. This Punjab-born scientist was recently awarded the prestigious Wolf Prize by Israel, regarded equivalent to the Nobel Prize. Name this agriculture specialist whose research in the Philippines has led to the development of about 300 disease resistant, high-yielding new varieties of rice.

2. In a planned nuclear programme, first PHWRs and then FBRs have to be set up. What are the full forms of PHWR and FBR?

3. The most widely used calendar in the world is based on the solar year which is the interval of time between two succesive passages of the sun through vernal equinox. What is this calendar called and why?

4. The symptoms of this dreaded, incurable disease include unconsciousness, epileptic fits and paralysis of any part of the body. Its attack is accompanied by high viral fever and the patient immeidiately develops these symptoms. Which disease are we talking about?

5. Nickel is a silvery-white dectile metal of atomic number 28. It has five naturally occurring isotopes and seven radioactive isotopes. But scientists in France have recently created a new isotope of nickel, having mass number 48. What distinguishes this isotope from the other known isotopes of nickel?

6. What type of organic compounds are present in cigarette smoke which are potential carcinogens?

7. Shakti Kapoor is running at a speed of 10 km/hour and Govinda is chasing him at 12 km/hour. If Govinda is 100 metres behind Shakri Kapoor, in how much time will he catch Kapoor?

8. One function of a fertiliser is to supply nutrients to the plants. What is the other function?

9. Cyclotron is a machine used for accelerating charged particles such as protons and heavier ions. Who invented this machine? Which element was produced by the inventor using this machine?

10. A new book authored by Raj Chengapa desctibes the secret story of India’s quest to be a nuclear power. Can you name this book?


1. Dr Gurdev S. Khush, 2. Pressurised Heavy Water Reactor and Fast Breeder Reactor, 3. Gregorian calendar, because it was introduced by Pope Gregory XIII, 4. Encephalitis, commonly known as japanese fever, 5. The number of neutrons is 20, which is much less than the number of protons (28), which is rare, 6. Polycyclic hydrocarbons, 7. 3 minutes, 8. To adjust the pH value of soil, 9. American physicist Earnest Orlando Lawrence; technetium, the first artificial element, 10. “Weapons of Peace”.Top


Spy with a little eye...

It’s an exhibition which would make James Bond proud. A wide array of cloak and dagger devices have been put in a permanent museum in the Dover Castle in Kent, England.

Called Live & Let’s Spy Exhibition, it includes real exhibitis like shaving brushes containing film and compass, a pen which turns into a mini revolver, concentrated food in toothpaste tubes and a miniature radio and earphone in a lunchbox gadgetry which is standard paraphernalia for a spy.

The exhibition has been drawing full houses and people are waiting for a new section to open up later in the year called ‘Spaceage Espionage’.

The photo shows a miniature radio and earphone in a lunchbox.

Robot surgeons

Scientists in Germany have developed a surgical robot with ultrasound-based navigation and referencing system whose movements are steadier and more precise than that of a surgeon when it comes to delicate spinal cord operations.

Operations on the spinal column are particularly delicate as one false movement of the scalpel can threaten a patient with paralysis. But surgical operation is often the only way to relieve patients of pain after a slipped disc, tumour removal or damage to vertebrae.

To reduce the risks involved, researchers at four Fraunhofer Institutes have developed a surgical robot. The robot’s movements are steadier than the hand of the surgeon and more precise. It is capable of inserting screws into the vertebral stem (pedicle) to an accuracy of a tenth of a millimetre. These screws are then used to attach rigid bars to the vertebrae in order to stabilise the spinal column.

To avoid injury and ensure that the screws are inserted precisely possible, doctors have been using x-ray images to monitor such operations. The disadvantage of this method is that x-ray pictures can only be taken at intervals of several minutes. As a result, despite taking the utmost care, there are frequent cases of injury to the bone marrow, adjacent nerves or major blood vessels.Top