Chandrayaan 2: Do you know these TN villages’ contribution to India’s prestigious moon mission?

COIMBATORE/SALEM/NAMAKKAL: The moon may not be ours for the asking but people of two villages near Namakkal have managed to get just a little bit closer to it by providing the sand that matched the moon’s surface for Chandrayaan’s test landing. A hefty supply of the anorthosite soil from Sittampoondi and Kunnamalai villages not only ensured the mission’s success but also ended India’s dependency on the USA for the same.

According to Chandrayaan 2’s former director Mylswamy Annadurai, ISRO (Indian Space Research Organisation) needed soil that matched the moon’s surface to test Chandrayaan 1’s landing. The 10 kg that they needed was brought in from the USA at the cost of $150 per kg. In 2010, the rover landing tests for Chandrayaan 2 needed 60-70 kg of sand. The prohibitive costs of continuing to buy the sand from the USA pushed the scientists to look for alternatives.

The sand was then found to be available in Maharashtra, and two villages near Namakkal — Sittampoondi and Kunnamalai. “After speaking with the top officials, we took the rocks from these places and crushed it to sand at a crusher near Salem. This was then taken to the ISRO labs and used to make a replica of the moon for carrying out the rover landing test,” explained Mylswamy.

With the sand being supplied by these places within the country, ISRO was able to get it in the quantity they wanted, and that too free of cost, he pointed out.

Periyar University’s Director of Geology C Anbazhagan explained the mechanics behind the tests. ISRO needs the anorthosite soil, which is present on the lunar surface, for simulator tests for lander Vikram and rover Pragyan. After the success of Chandrayaan 2, the soil was needed at ISRO’s proto-lunar terrain test facility at Bengaluru. After NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) pegged the cost of the sand at Rs 10,000 per kg, Mylswamy and fellow scientist Venugopal approached his department and sought their help. Within six months, the department was able to supply 50 tonnes of soil from the two villages of Sithhampoodi and Kunnamalai. While the value the supply was around Rs 15 lakh, it was given for free and helped the country save several crores of rupees, Anbazhagan explained.

“We are very much proud to be part of this great Chandrayaan 2 mission ,” he added.

The villagers, from whose land the soil was taken, could not be happier. Though the reason for mining the soil from their land was not informed to every contributor, they had readily given it away. When word of it having helped the moon mission got around, everyone is glad to have played a role in it.

P Shanmugam, a farmer-retired postmaster, recalled that a team of officials asked permission to do research in his agricultural land a few months ago. It was then that they had taken the soil from a six-foot-deep hole. “I came to know that this sample helped ISRO’s research. I am very happy,” he reveals.