(Caution: This article contains facts, but the journey is full of unknown twists and turns. You might as well treat it like space exploration)

There is a problem when you want to land, face-down, on your uncle.

India's space scientists may have reached a point where they think the Moon is a balloon, but it gets slightly complicated if you grew up on nursery rhymes that went, ‘Chandamama, Dur Ke’. At 3.844 lakh kilometres, Uncle Moon is certainly a bit too far, and we ought to be cheering our rocket men and women. A decade after sending a rocket that only circled around the Moon before losing contact, India is ready to launch Chandrayaan-2 on July 15, 2019 – this time to land on its south pole.

The first landing attempt by Indian space mission thus far is a daring venture. The Moon's surface is not easy. The dust is hard. Closer to the surface, it sends push back material that makes landing harder for the landing vehicle. Temperatures are uneven and close to the surface there are vacuum-like situations. This is not quite like familiar earth. The entire operation will be in the period of the Moon Day, that is equal to 14 earth days, because solar power requires sunlight on which the entire mission will run. Pity the mission won't touch the Dark Side of the Moon. Evidently, ISRO scientists are not Pink Floyd fans.

Chandrayaan, the Orbiter; Vikram, the Lander; and Pragyan, the Rover, will hope to make a friendly troika like Amar, Akbar, and Anthony. They will all reach Moon Country by September 7.

The first will circle, the second will land and the third will explore the earth's only satellite up close. Carried up by the GSLV-MK III heavy-duty rocket, the mission will carry 14 payloads of various kinds. The mission is sensitive because Israel just had a failure in a mission to the Moon (despite the absence of Palestinians there!). India also recently called back its GSAT-11 from Kourou for technical checks. ISRO does not want to take chances if it can help it. You know this is tougher than a Balakot air strike. This one is not about terrorists. The troublesome people are more likely to be errorists who made some mistake in scientific calculations.

Chandrayaan 1 orbited the Moon and sent back data as it was active for 11 months in 2008-9. But it lost touch later, though researchers located it in 2017 at an orbit about 180 degrees away from orbital estimates in 2009, like it was something misplaced by an Amazon delivery boy. An accompanying Moon probe intentionally crashed into the surface. The biggest achievement of Chandrayaan 1 was the discovery of water ice on the Moon, confirmed and announced by the folks at NASA.

Hold it now. India is not the first nation to send a rocket to the Moon. It is the fourth. We are still behind the Chinese, who have been there four times, including a landing on the South Pole that precedes India. But there is a lot to celebrate.

Russia sent a craft to the Moon way back in 1959. The US landed a man there a decade later. (Remember Neil Armstrong?) The Chinese started in 2007. The Chinese, of course, have a special reason to get there as the Great Wall of China is the only human-made structure on earth visible from the Moon.

But India is happy to break into an elite club. Just like it did with nuclear explosions. A bit late to the party, but certainly no gatecrasher. Having also sent a rocket to Mars, called Mangalyaan, India is looking pretty cool. India sent a rocket to Mars in 2013 when Manmohan Singh was the prime minister but it landed on Mars on September 24, 2014, a week after the brand-new prime minister Narendra Modi turned 64.

A geopolitical side story to India's space odysseys is its cooperation with Japan to take on China, which became the third country to get to the Moon. In December 2017, Japan's JAXA and ISRO had signed an "Implementing Agreement" on lunar exploration. So the Bullet Train from Mumbai to Ahmadabad is not the only cool transport deal between Tokyo and New Delhi.

But Why Do We Go To The Moon?

Exciting possibilities include future lunar colonies but data for mineral exploration, mapping and images are the immediate objectives of the Chandrayaan probe. Hindi news channels that speak of aliens doing this and that may have to wait for real facts on this, though they are not known to let facts get in the way of their prime-time stories. We should not rule out a Hrithik Roshan lookalike in a Chandrayaan take on Krrish, the number of whose Bollywood franchises are now double that of the Moon mission.

Speaking seriously, some of the technologies used for space exploration can have applications that help the poor, such as the ability to spot fish in the oceans to help fishermen. This factoid should help British journalists who are forever asking why India should be making rockets while there are poor farmers starving in the parched parts where their elder compatriots ruled a century ago.

India's first mission to Mars, Mangalyaan, finished four years in orbit last year. It even had a Twitter handle (@MarsOrbiter) that charmed social media with its fancy pictures and cool-kid tweets. Somewhere along the way, India's nerdy scientists turned cool. That may be a bigger achievement for some than rocket science.

The Mars mission went close to the red planet in 2014 soon after the BJP came to power. They could not, despite their best efforts, rename it the saffron planet. (Just joking).

The Mangalyaan spacecraft was indigenously designed, built and launched by ISRO in a record period of fewer than two years at a Rs 450 crore ($ 73 million) budget. The only thing that could explore space cheaper at that level and costs less would be a movie by Steven Spielberg.

So, India became the first country in the world to successfully hit an interplanetary orbit the first time when the Mangalyaan Rover did its job to perfection. The Mangalyaan has five instruments mounted on it for collecting scientific data of the morphology, atmospheric processes, surface temperature, etc. etc of Mars. If you want to know more than that, you should be reading a real scientific paper. All you can say is that the mission had loads of meters to measure this and that. If you can recall some indecipherable but important-sounding dialogues between Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock on StarTrek, that should be enough for now.

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) now has a 30-year roadmap for various space missions, though one is not sure if a path to destinations in outer space should actually be called a roadmap.

Aditya-L1 is an important mission planned by India for 2021, to study the solar corona. That will be followed a year later by India's first manned space mission, Gaganyaan, in 2022. (Er, will that be a womanned one, considering that so many women were behind the Mars mission?). The year 2022 will also see a second visit to Mars, named Mangalyaan-2. A Shukrayaan – rocket to Venus – is planned for 2023.

And then, ISRO is finally thinking of setting up a space station, once considered a costly affair. But plans will begin after Gaganyaan. No wonder, young Indians are excited. Post-millennial Indians are so excited that one girl called Geetha Iyer even wrote a love letter of sorts on the National Geographic website beginning with a "Dear Mangalyaan..." This is not fake news. This is also evidence that if you want to date a rocket, the place to go is National Geographic and not Tinder. Geetha's encouraging dad told her it may even be possible for humans to land on Mars in her lifetime. I might add we might one day even have shared rocket rides, the way Uber is expanding, and the way the likes of Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk are building space rockets. For more exciting options in ride-sharing, they might consult Noida's tempo van drivers.

ISRO also planning a mission called Exoworlds, which wants to take off in 2028, and go beyond the solar system. The only dreadful thing is that it might inspire the 28th Bollywood franchise of Krrish.

Then there is XPoSat, or the X-ray Polarimeter Satellite, a dedicated mission to study polarisation. The instruments in question have been developed by the Raman Research Institute to study X-rays. The institute is named after Sir CV Raman, the first Indian scientist to win a Nobel prize. This turbaned nerd was so ambitious in his career that even his name was prefixed by a CV.

India's physicists have travelled far since Sir CV Raman's days. The way things are, who knows, we might even see time travel in the near future. This is not to be confused with living in the past, which some of our politicians are very good at. Some of them, my friends say, should be dispatched to outer space. That would be another story.