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ISRO’s lunar touchdown has dry run on soil fetched from Tamil Nadu

Chandrayaan-2’s lander and rover were tested on a simulated surface

Newly designed cars are tested for road-worthiness on terrain where they would be driven, while new aircraft are test-flown in the skies. But where on earth did the Chandrayaan-2 mission’s lander and rover, which will head for the moon on July 15, check out their legs and wheels?

More than a decade ago, even as the Chandrayaan-1 orbiter mission of 2008 was being readied, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) created a proto-Lunar Terrain Test Facility (LTTF) at its advanced satellite testing unit, ISITE, in Bengaluru. This, it did, by modifying a balloon research lab, about 30-40 m high, long and wide.

At the time, ISRO was grappling with the task of indigenously executing the cryogenic stage for its GSLV MkII rocket. Any thought of sending a moon lander was a distant dream of low priority. Equipping the LTTF and making it look and feel like being on the moon was the first challenge. It needed lunar ‘soil’ with almost all its features and texture, lunar temperatures, low gravity and the same amount of sunlight as on the moon.

For recreating the terrain, an option was to import simulated lunar soil from the U.S. — at an exorbitant $150 a kg (the then prevailing price). The facility needed about 60-70 tonnes of soil.

ISITE’s parent, the U.R. Rao Satellite Centre, or URSC (it was called the ISRO Satellite Centre or ISAC at the time) did buy a small amount of simulated lunar soil from the U.S., but soon decided to find its own solution at a lower cost.

M. Annadurai, who as URSC Director oversaw activities related to the Chandrayaan-2 spacecraft until he retired in August 2018, recounts that geologists of various national agencies had found that a few sites near Salem in Tamil Nadu had the ‘anorthosite’ rock that somewhat matches lunar soil in composition and features. The URSC’s lunar soil simulation studies team zeroed in on Sithampoondi and Kunnamalai villages for the soil.

It turned out to be a ₹25 crore project: experts from the National Institute of Technology in Tiruchi, Periyar University in Salem, and the Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru, joined in, working without any fee.

SC tells Speaker to defer call on Karnataka MLAs

Court orders status quo, schedules hearing for Tuesday

In a spot: Karnataka Chief Minister H.D. Kumaraswamy, right, having a word with his deputy G. Parameshwara in the Assembly on Friday. K. Murali Kumar THE HINDU

The Supreme Court on Friday pressed the pause button in the legal battle for power in Karnataka, asking Assembly Speaker K.R. Ramesh Kumar to refrain from deciding on the disqualification or resignation of 10 rebel Congress-Janata Dal (Secular) MLAs for the time being.

The order comes just a day after the court asked Mr. Ramesh Kumar to meet the 10 MLAs at 6 p.m. on July 11 and decide on their resignations “forthwith or in the course of the remaining part of the day”.

On Friday, a Bench, led by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, ordered status quo and scheduled the hearing for Tuesday next.

The Bench’s decision came after an hour-long hearing, in which Chief Minister H.D. Kumaraswamy said the rebel MLAs had dragged the court into a “political thicket”.

The Speaker, in turn, accused the legislators of feeding the court with a petition “full of blunders and distortions”.

Pak. asks India to pull back fighter jets

Airspace ban along eastern border extended until July 26

Pakistan has told India that it will not open its airspace for commercial flights until Indian Air Force fighter jets are removed from forward airbases, its Aviation Secretary Shahrukh Nusrat informed a parliamentary committee.

The country’s Civil Aviation Authority also announced on Friday that the airspace ban along its eastern border with India has been extended for the fifth time till July 26.

Pakistan fully closed its airspace on February 26 after the IAF fighter jets struck a Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorist training camp in Balakot following the Pulwama terror attack in Kashmir.

Mr. Nusrat, who is also the Director General of the CAA, told the Senate Standing Committee on Aviation on Thursday that the Indian government had approached Pakistan to open the airspace.

“We conveyed our concerns that first India must withdraw its fighter planes placed forward,” Dawn News quoted him as telling the panel.

Review decision

A CAA official said the Pakistan government will review whether to open its space for Indian flights or not on July 26. “However, this issue is a bilateral one and no progress will be made till both Islamabad and New Delhi decide it mutually,” he said.

Last month, for the fourth time, the CAA had extended the airspace ban till July 12.

“The Panjgoor airspace will remain open for overflying transit flights from the western side as Air India had already been using that airspace,” the authority said in a notice on Friday.

Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri told Parliament on Thursday that due to the closure of Pakistan airspace, Air India had to spend an extra ₹430 crore on longer routes.

Chinese men unfurl banner near LAC

Incident occurred at Demchok village

At least 11 men in civilian clothing on Friday morning drove close to the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in J&K’s Ladakh region from the Chinese side and unfurled a big banner apparently “to counter the Dalai Lama’s birthday celebrations in a nearby village on this side”.

The incident, according to officials in the Army and the administration, occurred at Demchok village.

The officials could not confirm if the men were from the Chinese Army or from a nearby village.

“People in civvies drove down in two to three vehicles and came opposite the village where the celebrations were held and unfurled a long red banner, reading ‘Ban all activity to split Tibet’,” said the officials.

They added there was no attempt to intrude or “violate the sanctity of the LAC”. It was an attempt at ‘intimidating’ the locals, added an official. “Phukche festival organised on the Dalai Lama’s birthday is a regular feature in Ladakh,” another official said.

Homes lost, Malad wall collapse victims still in hospital

Many of the 41 persons admitted to Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Municipal General Hospital ‘fit for discharge’

Nowhere to go: Officials have requested the civic authorities to move such patients to a charitable home. Jyoti ShelarJyoti Shelar

Of the 41 persons injured in the Malad wall collapse and admitted to Kandivali’s Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Municipal General Hospital, half are fit for discharge. But with no homes left to return to, the hospital has kept them as ‘social admissions’ till a shelter is arranged.

“It is a sensitive issue now,” said medical superintendent Pradeep Angre.

“We cannot force these patients out as their homes have been destroyed. So we are treating them like social admissions. Some of the patients who could stay with relatives or friends have moved out but others are reluctant to leave,” Dr. Angre added.

The wall of a reservoir in the city’s north-western suburb came crashing down during the heavy rainfall on July 1, killing 29 people, injuring more than 100 others and destroying over 100 shanties in Kurar village.

The injured were rushed to Mumbai’s five city government-run hospitals, with a majority admitted to Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Municipal General Hospital.

On Friday, Assistant Commissioner of P North ward, Sanjog Kabare, visited the hospital and collected details of the families who were there. “There is no clarity on how much time the rehabilitation procedure will take,” said Dr. Angre. “We have requested the civic authorities to move the patients to a charitable home or a school till their rehabilitation is finalised so that they don’t have to occupy hospital beds,” he added.

Among those who have made the hospital a temporary home is Alka Sakpal, 50, who lost her eldest daughter in the disaster. Her two other children remain hospitalised, despite being fit for discharge. “Where will we go,” asked Ms. Sakpal.

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