NASA chief scientist Jim L Green reveals America’s lunar aspirations, its ongoing partnership with ISRO and race to hold on to its supremacy in space exploration

CHENNAI : Even as India’s second moon mission — Chandrayaan-2 — completed its fourth Earth orbit-raising manoeuvre immaculately on Friday afternoon and is slated to enter the lunar orbit later this month before attempting the all-important soft-landing near the uncharted South Pole on September 7, curiosity and expectations are building among space-faring nations on what the mission would unravel as there is a separate battle for supremacy unfolding.

One of the main objectives of this mission is to look for water. The US space agency National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was the first to congratulate Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), when the Chandrayaan-2 mission was successfully launched on July 22 and also reminded of its helping hand in the mission’s success.

“We’re proud to support your mission comms using our Deep Space Network and look forward to what you learn about the lunar South pole where we will send astronauts on our #Artemis mission in a few years,” NASA had tweeted.
The year 2019 would be remembered in space history for a long time. Apart from Chandrayaan-2, the year saw multiple countries going to the moon for “science, profit and pride”.

In January, the Chinese Chang’e-4 landed a spacecraft on the far side of the moon and Chang’e-5 mission is planned in December. China’s first sample-return mission aims to come back with 2 kg of lunar soil and rock samples.

On April 11, an Israeli’s SpaceIL spacecraft crash-landed on the lunar surface.

The year also marks the 50th anniversary of the famed Apollo 11 mission of July 1969, that for the first time, saw humans land on the moon. 

In an exclusive e-mail interview to TNIE, NASA chief scientist Jim L Green reveals America’s lunar aspirations, its ongoing partnership with ISRO and race to hold on to its supremacy in space exploration. 

Dr Green was the Director of the Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters. Under his leadership, several missions have been successfully executed, including the New Horizons spacecraft flyby of Pluto, the MESSENGER spacecraft to Mercury, the Juno spacecraft to Jupiter, the Grail spacecraft to the Moon, the Dawn spacecraft to Vesta and Ceres, and the landing of the Curiosity rover on Mars, just to name a few. 


Why is there a sudden rush to return to the Moon? NASA reportedly accelerated its lunar program to send astronauts by 2024, instead of 2028. 

On December 1, 2017, President Donald Trump signed Space Policy Directive 1, that outlines a US-led, integrated program with private sector partners for a human return to the Moon, followed by missions to Mars and beyond.

Exploring the Moon helps create a vibrant future that: establishes American leadership and strategic presence; inspires a new generation and encourages careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics); leads groundbreaking science and technology and expands US global economic impact.

What are the new motivations that are driving this lunar race, compared to what it was when US put men 50 years ago?

Going forward to the Moon is part of a larger, sustainable exploration campaign with international and commercial partners. Our partnerships will unify nations, create new economic opportunities and inspire generations. 

What is NASA’s moon program Artemis and its objectives?

Artemis is NASA’s path to the Moon to return astronauts to the lunar surface by 2024. The moniker, Artemis, is the umbrella under which our lunar plans fall, as part of our broader Moon to Mars exploration approach. This program will see the first woman and the next man set foot on and explore the Moon.

Artemis has three missions: Artemis 1 will have the first flight test of Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft as an integrated system.

Artemis 2 will be the first flight of crew to the Moon aboard SLS and Orion. Artemis 3 will launch the first crew to the lunar surface (via a human landing system from the Gateway in lunar orbit). As a result of Artemis, NASA will also establish a sustainable human presence on Moon by 2028.

Can Moon’s water sources and helium-3 be tapped? 

NASA’s plan is to be able to investigate and ultimately use the expected frozen water resources found in south pole lunar craters. Currently, NASA has no plans to mine helium-3 on the moon.

What do you feel about India’s Chandrayaan-2 mission and its decision to land near the uncharted South Pole?

We are delighted that ISRO is attempting to land near the South Pole of the Moon, where we will send astronauts on our Artemis mission in a few years. 

NASA collaborated with ISRO in Chandrayaan-1 mission, which made history detecting signs of water or hydroxyl. Would both organisations come together again?

It was NASA-developed Moon Mineralogy Mapper (MMM) instrument on Chandrayaan-1 mission, that detected signs of water on the lunar surface. NASA would like to continue to partner with ISRO on their missions.

What are the current collaborative projects that NASA and ISRO are engaged in?

NASA is providing ISRO with deep space communications support to both, the Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) and the Chandrayaan-2 mission. NASA has worked with ISRO to install a laser retro-reflector on the Chandrayaan-2 lunar lander. Both organisations have been conducting a joint airborne campaign involving the flight of a NASA spectrometer (that measures the surface-reflected solar spectrum) on an ISRO aircraft in India.

We are currently arranging a separate airborne campaign involving the flight of an ISRO-provided airborne Synthetic Aperture Radar instrument on a NASA aircraft in North America.

Both organisations have also been conducting a series of field campaigns that use balloon-borne instruments launched from India to study the nature, formation, and impacts of the Asian Tropopause Aerosol Layer associated with the summer Asian monsoon.

What is the status of NASA-ISRO Synthetic Aperture Radar, or NISAR satellite?

The NASA-ISRO Synthetic Aperture Radar (NISAR) mission is proceeding well. The NASA and ISRO teams are working closely together toward launch in 2022. 

This mission will take advantage of the dual-frequency capability provided by its two radars (a NASA-provided L-band synthetic aperture radar [SAR] and an ISRO-provided S-band SAR) to make global measurements of the planet’s most complex processes, including ecosystem disturbances, ice-sheet collapse, and natural hazards such as earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes and landslides.