Why India's Moon Mission Can Be A Stepping Stone To Mars

The Moon can serve as a pitstop as well as a testing ground for future space missions, including those involving the red planet.

Why India's Moon Mission Can Be A Stepping Stone To Mars

The Chandrayaan 2 may be a precursor to more ambitious space missions to come.

New Delhi: 

India may soon become the fourth nation after the United States, Russia and China to land a spacecraft on the Moon, but there is much more at stake than that. Chandrayaan 2 holds great significance for future space exploration missions, including those to Mars.

While the Moon is located at a distance of 380,000 km from Earth, reaching Mars - an average of 225 million kilometres (140 million miles) - will undoubtedly prove to be a greater challenge. Scientists say that if the lunar south pole happens to have water in abundance, it will serve as a pitstop as well as a testing ground for technologies to be used for the Mars mission.

"Flying to Mars isn't an easy task. You need to learn about technology, you need to test technologies and you need to do it on the Moon. You need to have a testbed somewhere," says Mathieu Weiss, a representative in India for France's space agency CNES.

The Chandrayaan 2's Vikram lander is due to land in the lunar South Pole region, which the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) terms as "completely unexplored". The lunar rover emerging from the spaceship will help scientists better understand the origin and evolution of the Moon through a study of the area's topography and minerals.

The area also has craters, termed as "cold traps", believed to contain a record of the early solar system. India's first lunar mission in 2008 - the Chandrayaan 1 - did not land on the Moon but detected ice in the frigid shadows of craters at the lunar poles with the help of radar technology.

Scientists believe that the lunar south pole contains large amounts of water, and Chandrayaan 2 will further explore how much there might be. This is important because it could determine whether having people live on the Moon is feasible, said Mr Weiss.

"If any future (human) settlements will happen on the Moon, it will be in that area, because it is the only area where the temperature is constant as it's a shadowed area," he told AFP. "If you want to survive on the Moon, you need water for living, and you need water for power. With water you can power engines."

The last time humans were on the Moon was in 1972, when the US Apollo 17 mission took Eugene Cernan, Harrison Schmitt and Ronald Evans - and five mice (named Fe, Fi, Fo, Fum and Phooey) - there and back.

According to Chandrayaan 1 director Mylswamy Annadurai, the new Indian mission could be a "precursor for future manned missions". He says this could be the first step towards exploring Mars, given that reaching and colonising the Red Planet is being viewed by government and private interests as the next challenge.

Last year, US space agency NASA expressed the belief that it can put humans on the Red Planet within 25 years. Billionaire Elon Musk wants to get people there too.

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