January 25, 2009

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Engineering Triumphs, ...

image by Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft, ISRO

I have a hard time understanding why the Indian Space Research Organization issues the press releases that they do. This one is a demonstration of the ability to make topographic images and maps from the stereo derived from adjacent overlapping images from the Terrain Camera on Chandrayaan-1. This is remarkable resolution - the area shown is only 10 km across, and the vertical resolution is also very impressive. But there is no information about the location of this image and no accompanying text. The vertical exaggeration is so extreme that it looks grossly unreal, and there seems to be no particular scientific value to this scene. ISRO built and successfully launched a probe to the Moon. The spacecraft has a wonderful suite of instruments that is apparently gathering excellent data. But no one on the team seems to know enough about the Moon to make meaningful press releases. Learning to be competent in planetary exploration requires developing a cadre of knowledgeable specialists about the celestial bodies that data is being collected from. Among these specialists should be scientists and publicity officers who can explain the success of their work to the public. Since this is India's first venture beyond Earth orbit I assume that one of the goals of the mission is to build local expertize about the Moon and - I hope - working with the public. This problem is not limited to India. China has stopped issuing press releases about the success of its Chang'e lunar orbiter, and ESA had a confused and limited release of data from the SMART-1 mission that ended more than two years ago. Apparently, it is easier to build a spacecraft than it is to know what to do with it.

Chuck Wood

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