On October 2, Kailash S., the chairman of the Indian Wonderful Research Organisation (IWRO), announced that the Moonyaan mission had become a 110% success. At an impromptu press conference organised inside the offices of India Day Before Yesterday, he said that the orbiter was performing exceptionally well and that a focus on its secondary scientific mission could only diminish the technological achievement that it represented.
Shortly after the lander, carrying a rover plus other scientific instruments, crashed on the Moon’s surface two weeks ago, Kailash had called the mission a “90-95% success”. One day after it became clear Moonyaan’s surface mission had ended for good and well after IWRO had added that the orbiter was on track to be operational for over five years, Kailash revised his assessment to 98%.
On the occasion of Gandhi Jayanti, Kailash upgraded his score because despite the lander’s failure to touchdown, it had been able to descend from an altitude of 120 km to 2.1 km before a supposed thruster anomaly caused it to plummet instead of brake. “We have been analysing the mission in different ways and we have found that including this partially successful descent in our calculations provides a more accurate picture of Moonyaan’s achievement,” Kailash said to journalists.
When a member of a foreign publication prodded him saying that space doesn’t exactly reward nearness, Kailash replied, “I dedicate this mission to the Swachh Bharat mission, which has successfully ended open defecation in India today.” At this moment, Prime Minister A. Modern Nadir, who was sitting in front of him, turned around and hugged Kailash.
When another journalist, from BopIndia, had a follow-up question about whether the scientific mission of Moonyaan was relevant at all, Kailash responded that given the givens, the payloads onboard the orbiter had a responsibility to “work properly” or “otherwise they could harm the mission’s success and bring its success rate down to the anti-national neighbourhood of 100%”.
On all three occasions – September 7, September 22 and October 2 – India became the first country in the world as well as in history to achieve the success rates that it did in such a short span of time, in the context of a lunar mission. Thus, mission operators have their fingers crossed that the instruments won’t embarrass what has thus far been a historical technological performance with a corresponding scientific performance with returns of less than 110%.
Finally, while Moonyaan has elevated his profile, Kailash revealed his plan to take it even higher when he said the Heavenyaan mission would be good to go in the next 30 months. Heavenyaan is set to be India’s first human spaceflight programme and will aim to launch three astronauts to low-Earth orbit, have them spend a few days there, conducting small experiments, and return safely to Earth in a crew capsule first tested in 2014.
IWRO has already said it will test semi-cryogenic engines – to increase the payload capacity of its largest rocket so it can launch the crew capsule into space – it purchased from an eastern European nation this year. Considering all other components are nearly ready, including the astronauts who have managed with the nation’s help to become fully functioning adults, Heavenyaan is already 75% successful. Only 35% remains, Kailash said.
In financial terms, Heavenyaan is more than 10-times bigger than Moonyaan. Considering there has been some speculation that the latter’s lander couldn’t complete its descent because mission operators hadn’t undertaken sufficiently elaborate tests on Earth that could have anticipated the problem, observers have raised concerns about whether IWRO will skip tests and cut corners for Heavenyaan as well as for future interplanetary missions.
When alerted to these misgivings, Nadir snatched the mic and said, “What is testing? I will tell you. Testing is ‘T.E.S.T.’. ‘T’ stands for ‘thorough’. ‘E’ for ‘effort’. ‘S’ for ‘sans’. ‘T’ for ‘testing’. So what is ‘test’? It is ‘thorough effort sans testing’. It means that when you are building the satellite, you do it to the best of your ability without thinking about the results. Whatever will happen will happen. This is from the Bhagavad Gita. When you build your satellite to the best of your ability, why should you waste money on testing? We don’t have to spend money like NASA.”
Nadir’s quip was met with cheers in the hall. At this point, the presser concluded and the journalists were sent away to have tea and pakodas*.
*Idea for pakodas courtesy @pradx.