Saturday, September 29, 2007

Holidays to space gain momentum

September 2007
Syed Akbar
Hyderabad: With space tourism being dubbed as the most lucrative travel industry of the future, space scientists, astrophysicists and astrobiologists are busy exploring the ways and means of colonising the moon and the Earth’s neighbouring planet, Mars.
Though establishing human colonies on them may take at least three to four decades, travel to outer space has become a reality. The next 10 years are going to witness a major boom in space tourism. Space experts from across the globe including the USA's National Aeronautics and Space Administration, European Union's European Space Agency and India's Indian National Space Research Organisation, currently attending the 58th International Astronautical Congress in Hyderabad, are deliberating theoretically what steps they should take to ensure a comfortable space tourism project.
They are also discussing the feasibility of establishing human colonies on the moon and Mars.
Space scientists are enthusiastic about space tourism to outer space, but are divided over the human tour packages to natural satellites and planets. This is because scientists do not know the short or long term effects of the moon or Mars’ atmosphere on human beings. Sub-orbital vehicles and orbital cities are being planned to boost space tourism to outer space by 2020. Space tourism, though a recent phenomenon, is fast catching up among private individuals, who can afford the journey. The cost is highly prohibitive, about $30 million for a week-long stay in space.
The ongoing Astronautical Congress is also thinking of measures to reduce the price so that more people could avail of the facility. Some scientists foresee a reduction in the overall fares by at least 10 per cent in the next two decades.
Presently, only the Russian Space Agency is offering space tourism packages for the general public. Russia takes enthusiastic space tourists to the international space station aboard a Soyuz spacecraft. It is the thrilling experience that has attracted at least half a dozen civilians to venture into this new tourism package.
Since the package is limited to the Russian Space Agency, one has to wait for at least two years after purchasing the "ticket". Flights are already reserved for the next two years. Tickets are now available for 2010.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Sunita felt sad while leaving space after 180 days

Published in The Asian/Deccan Chronicle on September 29, 2007
Hyderabad, Sept. 28: Astronaut Sunita Williams said here on Friday that she felt sad while coming back to earth after spending 180 days in space as it was a "peaceful world" out there.
"It was a world without prejudice and without any physical boundaries to divide people into nations," said the 42-year-old astronaut.
"The philosophy I learnt while living in space was the philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi, who advocated a borderless world where all human beings live together in peace," she added.
Sunita felt that space exploration needed similar international cooperation. "It is better that way than one nation doing it," she said.
She was in the city to participate in the concluding session of the 58th International Astronautical Congress on Friday. She interacted with the conference delegates and also spent time with school students.
According to Sunita, the thrill and fascination of the journey into space overweighed all fears and troubles.
"A visit to Mars and the return journey will take two years," she pointed out. "Though the journey will be in a closed capsule, there will be no sense of isolation since you will be in constant touch with the ground staff." Colonising the moon, Mars and other planets would become a necessity in the future as earth was getting overpopulated, she said. While on her space sojourn, Sunita used to recite a couple of verses from the Bhagavad Gita every morning.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Chanda mama inspired Sunita Williams to take a career in space sciences

Syed Akbar 
It's the cool "Chanda mama" up in the sky that has inspired American astronaut of Indian descent Sunita Williams to take a career in space sciences.
The brightly shinning moon amidst the twinkling stars has always been a source of inspiration for generations but Sunita, as a child, was so moved by its touching glory that she decided to explore it one day.
Strong will coupled with dedication pushed her on the ladder of success in the highly competitive atmosphere of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, where she is a "commander".
Sunita arrived in Hyderabad on Thursday for a two-day visit to this happening city. She will interact with about 2000 students from about 60 schools and hundreds of international delegates at the 58th international astronautical congress on Friday.
She will share with students her experiences in the international space station and how she feels being the first woman astronaut to spend six months in the world of weightlessness, zero-gravity and silence and with no-neighbourhood around.
On her first visit to Hyderabad, which is fast becoming a global hub for scientific and technological research, Sunita seems to be moved by its beauty and grandeur. Amidst tight security she was shifted to Novotel Hotel at HICC in Madhapur where the astronautical congress is being held. From Hyderabad, she looks forward to a manned mission to Mars, which NASA is hopeful of achieving by 2037.
"When I was five years old or so, I saw Neil Armstrong walk on the moon and thought, ‘wow -- that’s cool.’ I mean, that’s what I would like to do. Subsequent to that, all the TV shows about going to space sort of set a bit, I think, in everybody’s head that, that would be a great career," says Sunita.
Sharing her experiences before and after the space flight, Sunita points out in the NASA website, that she never really thought that she would visit the outer space in her life.
"It seemed too far out there, something that I could never achieve. Really didn’t touch base with me and hit home until I went to Test Pilot School in Maryland. I’m a Navy pilot, helicopter pilot. In one of our field trips, we came down to Johnson Space Centre," she recalls.
Stating that she got the idea of becoming an astronaut when she was bring trained for a helicopter pilot course, she says, "It was me and a couple of other helicopter pilots sitting in the back while all the jet pilots in my Test Pilot School class were all sitting in the front, listening to John Young talk about the shuttle and about flying to the moon. I remember him talking about learning how to fly a helicopter to land the lunar lander. Something just clicked in my head, and I said, ‘wow,’ you know, maybe there’s a use for helicopter pilots, if we’re going to go back to the moon. So, I sort of said to myself, the only one who’s telling me I’m not going to be an astronaut is me. I did the research on what was required, and I got my master’s degree and applied, and, lo and behold, the second application, I got an interview. So, I think I’m very, very lucky".
She describes the international space station as just a stepping-stone to get people understand space, and how to live and work in space, and then potentially get back to the moon is the next stepping-stone.
"How to work in a low-gravity environment and how to work in an environment that is not habitable for us that will take us to the next place, maybe Mars and then beyond," she adds.

Ice melt in Arctic sea worries scientists, oceanographers

Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, Sept 27: The sudden spurt in melting Arctic sea ice is now worrying scientists even as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration is busy finding reasons for the ice decline.
Though the Arctic sea ice has been melting for decades, it is for the first time that it has shrunk to its lowest in 29 years. Satellite and remote sensing data gathered by NASA reveals that there has been a sudden speed-up of ice melting process of late. The sea ice decline has gone below the minimum level set by oceanographers two years ago. NASA has been closely monitoring the sea ice melting phenomenon since 1979 and now it is busy working on the reasons for the sudden speed-up vis-à-vis what it means for the future of the human planet.
Space scientists attending the 58th international astronautical congress here are discussing the havoc the melting Arctic sea ice would cause to human, plant and animal life on the earth. If the ice decline increases further, it will hurry up the process of submergence of several islands in the world even while changing the geography of the coastline in several countries.
According to NASA scientists, the sea ice has been melting at around 10 per cent a decade for the past 29 years. "But the 2007 minimum, reached around September 14, is far below the previous record made in 2005 and is about 38 per cent lower than the climatological average. Compared to the record low in 2005, the extent and area are 24 per cent and nearly 26 per cent lower this year, respectively. This year, the amount of ice is so far below that of previous years that it really is cause for concern. The trend in decreasing ice cover seems to be getting stronger and stronger as time goes on," says senior NASA scientist Josefino C Comiso.
Scientists attribute this phenomenon to rapid changes in climate. "The implications on global climate are not well known, but they have the potential to be quite large, since the Arctic ice cover exhibits a tremendous influence on our climate. It really is imperative that we try to understand the interactions between the ice, ocean and atmosphere. And satellites hold the key to developing this understanding."

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Chopsuey, pizza, spring rolls for sehri

September 2007
Syed Akbar
Hyderabad: This Ramzan is going to be quite different in Hyderabad, at least on the food front. With the change in food habits of Hyderabadis, the traditional menu for the pre-dawn sehri and the post-sunset iftar has given way to Chinese, Italian and Andhra dishes.
The ritual of fasting was once considered to be incomplete in these parts without the traditional Hyderabadi dishes. But this season, several non-Hyderabadi dishes are all set to make their way into the special Ramzan menu. Instead of the traditional morning dishes nahari kulcha, murgh, kichidi kheema and bagara chawal with dalcha, "modern" Hyderabadis are preferring traditional South Indian breakfast like idli, vada and uthappam and Chinese food including chop suey, chow mein and lo mein. The famous bun muska has simply disappeared from the Ramzan menu.
"The traditional Hyderabadi items are too oily and full of cholesterol. Though the dishes taste good, they have a long term ill-effects on the body. Eating food with high cholesterol content early in the morning is not good for health. So we are going in for lighter stuff to ensure that the fasting goes on well without trouble," says lecturer B. Moinuddin. The highly educated ones, on the other hand, are going in for pizza, French fries, chicken nuggets, spring rolls and egg rolls. In tune with the changed food habits, several restaurants have made special arrangements to supply these items early in the morning in time for the sehri.
Even roadside bandis (pushcards) have come out with the sehri menu to cater to the changed needs, selling hot idli and vada early in the morning.
"There's a perceptible change in the eating habits of Hyderabadis. More and more families are going in for readymade food stuffs even for festivals. Preparation for sehri means waking up at 1.30 am so that the food is ready by 3 am. By the time the fajr (dawn) prayer is completed, it will be 5.45 am. This leaves little time for sleep. And this is primarily the reason why more and more people are going in for readymade and easily digestible items," says senior Islamic scholar Hafiz Syed Shujath Hussain.
The old Hyderabadis still to stick to their favourite all-time dishes like kofta, lukhmi along with nahari kulcha or bagara chawal with dalcha.
Moreover, with Ramzan falling in the rainy season — this is the first time that the festival is coming in the rainy season in 33 years — the menu for Iftaar has also undergone a few changes. The temperature is slightly lower and so there will be less of "cool stuff" like firni, harira, faluda and lassi. Ramzan, which literally means "heat" is also going to be a cool affair this season.
Ramzan falls in different seasons in different years completing the cycle in 33 years. This is because the lunar calendar falls short of 11 days in relation to the solar year.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Vedic classes for accurate fest dates

September 2007
Hyderabad, Sept. 8: A Hyderabad-based Vedic research institute has decided to put an end to disputes over dates of festivals by organising panchangam (almanac) classes for people.
Priests and pandits sometimes give different dates for major festivals, creating a dilemma. The Institute of Scientific Research on Vedas says that its classes on the panchangam will help people decide on their own the exact date of a festival.
To begin with, classes will be held in Hyderabad for three days from September 30 and will later be extended in phases to different parts of Andhra Pradesh.
Till now, panchangams have remained in the domain of Vedic pandits and astrologers. This is the first time that it is reaching the common people.
Both men and women above the age of 20 can attend the panchanga classes. "Brush up your knowledge of the ancient panchangam and clear the confusion in your mind," says institute founder and chairman Kuppa Venkata Krishna Murthy, adding, "Don’t leave the decisions to pandits, who often go by their egos."
For instance, a controversy over the Ugadi festival had forced the Andhra Pradesh government to change the holiday twice. People celebrated the Telugu New Year on two different days. There was confusion, too, over the date of Holi.
Senior pandit Malladi Chandrasekhara Sastry, the regular siddhanti at the official Ugadi almanac reciting function, criticised the government and said it was celebrating Ugadi on an inauspicious day. "The trouble occurs because the ancient texts are in Sanskrit," says Mr Krishna Murthy. "We will translate them into simple Telugu and English."
Festivals, both Hindu and Muslim, based on the lunar calendar are always the subject of dispute.
For Muslims the new month begins with the sighting of the crescent moon and for Hindus the new month starts the day after Amavasya. The Muslim day begins with sunset but the Hindu day is based on tithi, nakshatra and varam. Since these vary with changes in the phases of the moon (waning and waxing), disputes arise.
"There were no such problems in ancient India as people knew the panchangam by heart," says Mr Krishna Murthy. "They also observed the movements of celestial bodies."
Eminent scholars and astronomers, including Madhura Krishna Murthy Sastry of Rajahmundry, Prof. S. Balachandra Rao of Bangalore, Prof. K. Ramasubramanian of IIT Mumbai, and Prof. Sri Pada Bhat of Tirupati will take classes.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Scientists Discuss Asteroid Threat to Earth

Deccan Chronicle September 24, 2007
By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, Sept 23: The discussion on how to prevent potentially dangerous asteroids from hitting the earth will be the highlight of the week-long 58th international astronautical congress which begins here on Monday.
Astronauts from around the world will discuss and chalk out a strategy on earth-threatening asteroids, some of which may collide with the human planet in the next few decades leaving a trail of death and destruction. The Hyderabad congress will serve as a platform for internationally renowned astronauts to discuss the results presented at the 2007 Planetary Defence Conference held in March in Washington DC.
They will also discuss a range of possible options for deflecting a threatening object and outline opportunities for future research on the nature of asteroids and comets.
The 2036 close approach of the asteroid Apohis, which is currently predicted to have a one in 45,000 change of impacting the earth, will be highlighted at the conference as an example.
During its close passage by the Earth on April 13, 2029, it is possible that asteroid Apophis will pass through a keyhole leading to a collision in 2036.
The meeting will also highlight areas where the international community needs to work together to resolve current political, policy, legal, and other non-technical issues related to asteroid deflection and impact disaster mitigation.
According to an estimation by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, an impact from Apophis would release more than one lakh times the energy released in the nuclear blast over Hiroshima.
"Thousands of square kilometres would be directly affected by the blast but the whole of the earth would see the effects of the dust released into the atmosphere," NASA scientists points out.
NASA has suggested two possible methods of protecting the earth from an asteroid or comet determined to be on a collision course, by destroying the object before it hits the earth or by deflecting the object from its orbit before it hits the earth.
To destroy the earth-approaching object, astronauts would land a spacecraft on the surface of the object and use drills to bury nuclear bombs deep below its surface. Once the astronauts were a safe distance away, the bomb would be detonated, blowing the object to pieces. Drawbacks to this approach include the difficulty and danger of the mission itself, and the fact that many of the resulting asteroid fragments might still hit the Earth, resulting in massive damage and loss of life.
In the deflection approach, powerful nuclear bombs would be exploded up to half a mile away from the object. The radiation created by the blast would cause a thin layer of object on the side nearest the explosion to vaporise and fly into space. The force of this material blasting into space would recoil the object in the opposite direction just enough to alter its orbit, causing it to miss the earth.
NASA now supports, in collaboration with the United States Air Force, the Spaceguard Survey and its goal of discovering and tracking 90 per cent of the Near Earth Asteroids with a diameter greater than about one kilometre by next year.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

AP will hire 100 linguists to fight terror

September 2007
By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, Sept. 1: The Andhra Pradesh police is planning to hire experts in Arabic, Persian, Turkish, Pushto, Bangla, Uzbek, Baluchi, Kurdish, Hebrew, Spanish and Chechen to enable its proposed anti-terrorist cell to study the communications, websites and literature of terror networks.
About 100 experts will study communications of terrorist organisations to preempt possible attacks in Andhra Pradesh or other parts of the country.
But a difficult task lies before the police — recruiting language experts who are "reliable, averse to terrorism and patriotic to the core".
"We cannot hire foreign nationals," said a senior intelligence official. "We will never be sure if they are trustworthy. We need experts who detest terrorism and who are familiar with the modus operandi of terrorists."
Sources said that about 100 foreign language experts will be hired for regular consultation.
At present, the police depends on the forensic department for decoding jihadi websites or literature if the content is in a foreign language. This is a long drawn out process. By the time the police decipher everything, the suspected terror elements simply fall off the radar.
The existing counter-intelligence wing will be merged with the anti-terrorist cell, which will be an elite intelligence-cum-combat wing of the Andhra Pradesh police.
Officers of the cell will be trained in handling hostage situations at bus and railway stations. The police is not geared up to tackle such emergency situations.
Andhra Pradesh is the second state in South India, after Karnataka, to set up such a cell. Though neighbouring Maharashtra, too, has such a unit, they have no foreign language experts.