Mumbai: As the world celebrates the 40th anniversary of the first manned moon landing, few know about the role played by Indian scientists. The first men on the moon— Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin— collected 21.7 kg of rock and dust.
When they returned to earth on July 24, 1969, the US space agency Nasa distributed the samples for analysis to laboratories all over the world. One of these was the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) in Mumbai.
V S Venkatavaradhan, former director of the Nehru Planetarium in Mumbai, recalls that TIFR received about 100 gm of samples from the Apollo 11 mission. “Our main study related to the area of high energy particles,” he says.
A bit of the moon still exists at the Ahmedabad-based Physical Research Laboratory (PRL), an affiliate of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). Samples of moon dust and lunar rocks are stored in a cupboard under tight security and in special conditions.
J N Goswami, director of PRL says the samples came from TIFR for further analysis. Goswami, who is also the principal scientific investigator for the Indian moon mission, Chandrayaan-1, was one of the first Indian scientists to analyze the lunar samples. “Normally after analysis is completed we have to return the moon samples. But we got Nasa’s approval to retain them conforming to certain criteria. For instance, we do not touch these samples directly,” he says.
Every year, the Indian laboratories re-apply for permission to retain the lunar samples. And Nasa renews it. “We do not want to give them back because we may do further studies of the moon since there are a number of lunar missions being planned,” says Goswami.