2012 was a year that I spent watching at least two movies a week every week till December. Once I was back in Mumbai, the frequency fell drastically. So much so, that the last movie I had watched was Ramleela.

Today evening was spent watching the Malayalam movie Drishyam with family at Aurora Talkies in Matunga. The movie was awesome. I am absolutely in love with the plot and the script of the movie. Combined with the visual editing, the movie was an absolute treat.

I also think watching the movie at Aurora Talkies was a wise decision. The audience cheered with every twist and turn in the movie. And there were quite a few of these sprinkled across the movie. The film actually seemed to control the reactions of the crowd. That, in itself, is saying a lot.

GSLV-D5 Preparations On!

The GSLV D5 is scheduled for launch on January 5, 2013 at around 1618 hrs. (IST). Preparations are afoot at the Vehicle Assembly Building where each of the stage of the rocket is being assembled to form the GSLV.  A Mission Readiness Review on December 27 will confirm the time and date of launch, as per reports.

Integrating the indigenous cryogenic stage to the GSLV. Image Credit: ISRO

The most challenging part of this mission is the indigenous cryogenic stage. The 8 page brochure includes one whole page for the various design improvements that ISRO has undertaken for this mission. The changes have been made in the fuel booster turbo pump of the cryogenic engine that was believed to be the cause of the failure of the GSLV D3 in April 2010. Improvements have also been made to the aerodynamics of the launch vehicle and the wire tunnel that runs from the payload bay right down to the first stage. These were believed to be the cause of the failure of the GSLV-D4 which was destroyed by range officer after the vehicle veered out of control. ISRO has also instituted more tests than it had generally carried out for launch vehicle missions, which it prefers to do in-situ during missions.

An interesting addition to this mission is a video imaging system to keep watch of the lower shroud movement. It was this shroud that is suspected to be the culprit in snapping of the control wires that led to the failure of the GSLV-D4 mission. The Russians were blamed for this. It will be interesting to learn of lessons learnt from this mission.

They have also changed and are using a newer stage for this mission. As the countdown clock was running for the same mission on August 19, the second stage had popped a leak. A review found that the older tank used for the stage had cracked due to ageing. I can imagine many tanks wasting away without use as the GSLV launches keep getting delayed.

The development and success of the GSLV is critical for India. Several of its space missions have been scaled down due to the lack of reliability of this vehicle system. This along with the Mk-III are critical for self sufficiency in launching our geostationary satellites, future interplanetary missions and even the human space-flight programme. I wish good luck to the GSLV team.

ISRO’s Enhanced Social Media Presence

I would cordially like to welcome ISRO to the world of social media. It now has an official presence on Facebook and Twitter.

They’ve already had their first official Facebook page on the Mars mission since October, 2013. The page has already got more than 3 lakh followers. They’ve also done a very good job of providing real time updates and engaging with an Indian audience. This, in itself, is worthy of praise. They’ve now taken the step of extending that to the official ISRO level.

It does come in the background of some steps they’ve taken that I wish they would not have taken.

They have opened on the official pages with notes on the progress of the GSLV D5. They now have an official launch time – January 5, 2014 at 1618 hrs (IST) and some stunning pictures of the GSLV at the Vehicle Assembly Building at Sriharikota.

Hello World!

A previous attempt to blog here was spoiled by crackers who defaced this website. I remained wary of returning here and in the meanwhile blogged on the wordpress.com service. I am not yet ready to move here completely and still feel insecure.

The months of October, November and December seem to be the time that I start off my new projects and there has been something urging me to get back to a self-hosted WordPress blog. Hence, I am here, again.

I have been blogging since 2006 and this constant moving around has been in evidence since I started. In each one of my “Hello World” postings before this I have expressed hope that I wouldn’t move again and will use each blog as my steady space for blogging. I’ve hence experimented with WordPress, WordPress.com, Blogger, Typepad, Vox and Tumblr. If I counted all of my blogs they should number anywhere between 10 and 20. So, let’s see what happens if I don’t make the promise of sticking to this space, for a change?

ISRO on Social Media Misrepresentations

Note: I wrote this on my earlier blog hosted as https://parallelspirals.wordpress.com. I recovered the text from the WayBack Machine. This post appeared on December 17, 2013 as per the permalink. I’m trying to collect here again all my old writings spread on various blogs.

Update: ISRO posted this on their Facebook page earlier on Tuesday which seems to imply that they’re planning to expand their presence on Facebook and Twitter. If true, these fake profiles seem to have done more for public outreach than India’s space enthusiasts have achieved thus far. Kudos to the people behind the fake profiles!

I have congratulated ISRO’s social media presence with respect to the Mars Orbiter Mission. Their official page is linked to from the ISRO website. This press release tells me that ISRO is yet to understand social media much like many Indians, myself included.

There have been a multitude of unofficial ISRO accounts on the agency as well as it’s various missions, ostensibly trying to ape similar efforts by NASA. These may be well meaning individuals trying to inform the world about ISRO through a channel it is not present on using information from ISRO press releases and news stories. I myself did this when Chandrayaan 1 launched in 2008.

The critical difference, in my opinion, is being open about the fact that the account or the page is not an official ISRO page. I did so on my Chandrayaan 1 representation.

I think one does not go after these people with a legal notice. At least, not until one has sent them a warning.

Yutu is on the Surface of the Moon and Playing Around

Last time, I left you with the Chang’e 3 lander on the surface of the Moon and we were expecting the deployment of the rover on the surface of the Moon. It has been 24 hours since the last update.

Since the Chinese refuse to let us know in plain English what they plan to do, I decided to look for an update after they have completed everything. Twitter has been quite efficient at delivering in a time bound manner some of the awesome highlights of the mission. A blog post, I think is a more reflective affair and needs more time.

Around now, while India’s Mars Orbiter spacecraft is 10 times the distance from the Moon, China’s rover Yutu (Jade Rabbit) has been deployed on the lunar surface. Also, the rover and the lander have taken pictures of each other.

There is this very cool video of the landing of the Chang’e 3. Emily Lakdawalla on the Planetary Society blog [Disclosure: I am a member of the Society] has animated gifs of the rover getting off the lander and colour photos that the lander and rover took off each other. Her posts also links to several other resources and people talking of the landing. Nasaspaceflight.com seems particularly active with people trying to figure out and put together this landing story for the English audience. Stephen Clark at SpaceFlight Now has a more general update.

Indian media has been covering the story for the angle of peaceful exploration of the Moon. Articles don’t seem to have conveyed the excitement that has gone with this landing owing to the rate at which China has posted videos and pictures on this mission. Which is sad. Interestingly also, very few people have raised comparison with India’s Chandrayaan-II and if India lost in this race (despite both countries refusing the fact that they are in a race, it makes writing about these things more fun, when healthy competition exists). India’s lunar landing is now targeted at 2016-17.

Now, let’s wait for the science from the Chang’e 3.

Chang’e 3 Landing Today

There is a deafening silence in the Indian media about the accomplishments of the Chinese Chang’e 3. The spacecraft arrived at lunar orbit on December 6 and has since moved into an orbit with a periselene of 15 km and an aposelene of 100 km. Today evening at 1910 hrs it’ll become the first spacecraft since 1976 to make a soft landing on the surface of the Moon.

Emily Lakdawalla reports more about the landing here. Ken Kramer paints the broader picture on Universe Today.

CCTV News is the English news channel that might have updates. On Twitter, @ESA_Operations might be a good place to follow other than the usual suspects.

China lands on the Moon

Just taking a quick break to post this. China’s Chang’e 3 spacecraft has just made a soft landing on the surface of the Moon on Bay of Rainbows or somewhere near the outside of it. After landing they have deployed the solar arrays and are now checking out instrument health. A rover will be rolled onto the lunar surface on Tuesday. The landing took place at 1840 hrs IST.

Interestingly, the commentator didn’t seem to be ready for the landing. It powered itself down from 100 meter where it selected autonomously a landing site. As the commentator waited for it to begin the hover at the 30 m mark, he just said, “Chang’e 3 has landed”. Quite undramatic!

GSLV on Wikipedia

Note: I wrote this on my earlier blog hosted as http://parallelspirals.wordpress.com/. I recovered the text from the WayBack Machine. This post appeared on December 13, 2013 as per the permalink. I’m trying to collect here again all my old writings spread on various blogs.

I began contributing to Wikipedia in 2007 with the idea of improving coverage of Indian space sciences on Wikipedia. I began working on the articles related to the astronomical observatories. This also fell in line with the space popularization work I was involved in at Students for the Exploration and Development of Space (SEDS) India chapter. In 2009, I also began editing general interest articles on Wikipedia.

It was only yesterday, after a break of nearly a year or more, that I got back to editing on Wikipedia. I worked on the article of India’s Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle or GSLV. The upcoming launch has me nervous and had me interested in the history of the GSLV. I looked to Wikipedia as my first port of call and was frankly, disappointed at the shape in which I found the article. So, I rolled up my sleeves and began working on the article, in true Wikipedian style.

The history of the GSLV is as interesting as the vehicle itself. It was designed specifically to carry the INSAT class of satellites which weighed in at 2 to 2.5 tons. The Project was started in 1990 as the PSLV took shape and was beginning to move towards a development flight in 1993 to reduce reliance on the US’ Delta and European Ariane launch vehicles which are expensive options. Reading up, there seems to have been confusion on how to proceed with the tricky cryogenic third stage of the vehicle. Both US and Europe refused to share the technology and India had to go to the crumbling Soviet Union for help. US and Europe refused help pointing to the fact that India had not signed the Missile Technology Control Regime. I guess they also tried to offer the technology if India became part of the regime. The Soviet Glavkosmos offered to transfer technology to India in 1991. Following the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia could not stand up to US pressure on falling in line with the MTCR. It finally have India just 7 cryogenic stages and 1 ground mock up instead of 5 stages and transfer of technology. I am happy that India did not become part of MTCR despite immense pressure and need for cryogenic technology. Scientists at ISRO began work on India’s own cryogenic technology in 1994 called the Cryogenic Upper Stage Project.

Even the 7 cryogenic stages Russia supplied to ISRO held surprise for ISRO. The stage was heavier and there were interface problems. The engine was also not proven on any flight. It took ISRO about 6-7 years to get the stage to fly at all. Hence you see the first flight of the GSLV in 2001.

Scientists working on the Cryogenic Project were also part of what is now called the ISRO Spy Case. The scientist has alleged that the Case was put together at the behest of foreign interests that were trying to scuttle Indian efforts at building a cryogenic engine.

Although the learning curve on the GSLV has been huge, I think it will help India build a vehicle that is as versatile as the PSLV is today.

How to Watch Poirot?

As a school kid, we devoured Agatha Christies at the rate of two a week. Part of the secret was that we began reading the book at page 72 or thereabouts.

We discovered this into our fourth Agatha Christie, the version of white cover Christies we had in school started around Page 72. Till then Christie spent her time describing characters, villas and the countryside, something that our young minds did not have the patience to wade through. The murder usually took place on this page.

I believe a similar strategy would be needed to watch the show as well. The shows seem to be 2 part affairs. Having read all of the Poirots, it makes sense to watch only the second part. This would reduce watching to thrice a week and ensure I have some well needed sleep.