Talk by Susmita Mohanty at the American Center

It was Srinivas Laxman who forwarded me the email and invited me over since it was a public talk (video) to be held at the American Center, New Marine Lines. Given the rains and a talk about the Shuttle were not really great pull to go attend the event. At the end of the day, though, I am glad I attended the event.

Even though I was born in the ’80s and a video of the Space Shuttle Discovery lifting off with Hubble is what pushed me into space, I have never taken the trouble to sit down and get to know the Shuttle, the vehicle. Watching the last few sets of shuttle launches, space walks, pictures tweeted and shuttle landings have reduced the ignorance but I have never known about the anatomy of the shuttle, which is where Susmita started her talk today from.

Going from there she described the various activities – standing, moving, sleeping, use of the bathroom, controlling the spacecraft, bathing, spacewalking, repairing the Hubble. She tried hard to get the audience to understand how hard it is to do simple tasks inside the shuttle.

She ended her talk talking about the Virgin Galactic spacecraft, SpaceX’s Dragon, Bigelow Aerospace’s space hotels and lunar bases and an EADS Astrium video on space tourism.

The question and answer session was as interesting as any for a science outreach event held in Mumbai. The teens and children asked the really interesting questions – prospects of space entrepreneurship in India, shielding astronauts from cosmic rays and other effects (put by a kid as “are astronauts damaged by air from galaxies”) and prospects of Middle East in space exploration. The university kids (which included people from IIT-B and the Pratham small satellite team) remained silent. The older people asked really weird questions – showing they had selective information which they could not make sense of.

An interesting question that did not get answered was what was the mode of communication between spacewalking astronauts and the spacecraft – audio feed or radio.

The final space shuttle launch will be on July 8, 2011. The space shuttle Atlantis will fly for this mission.


Russian Cosmonaut visiting Nehru Centre

June 9, 2011 is the day when Russian cosmonaut Viktor Savinykh will be visiting the Nehru Center, Mumbai. In the morning he’ll inaugurate an exhibition on space. The exhibition will be open to the members of the public on the first floor of Nehru Planetarium till June 18, 2011.

In the evening Savinykh will talk on “50th Anniversary of the first human Space flight“. Savinykh became a cosmonaut in 1978. He’s flown in space for 252 days 17 hours and 38 minutes on three spaceflights. He flew to the Soviet Salyut 6 in 1981, Salyut 7  in 1985 and the Mir in 1988. On Salyut 7, Savinykh helped restore Salyut 7 with which ground control was lost. He, along with Vladimir Dzhanibekov manually docked with Salyut 7, replaced batteries and restored power and control to the station. 


First rains for 2011 in Mumbai

[Placeholder: I lost the images in this post. Post skeleton found here. 7 pictures]


What’s next?

This is a question that I was asked multiple times during my vacation to Kerala last month. It was perhaps a way of conversation for them but I did not really have a good answer for this one despite knowing well before hand that I would be asked this question. For the past two days, this question has returned with a vengeance and has forced me to think along a future trajectory.

My bad graduational injection means that my life needs an orbital correction. Based on various conversations I had today and yesterday, these are the options I have narrowed it down to:

1. Go to Russia and learn about rockets
Russia is a country I admire for their rocketry prowess. I love the shear volume of rockets they have and they launch every year. It is a trade that I’d love to learn and it’s best to learn from the best. I am looking at Universities that offer post-graduation courses in Aerospace Engineering/Rocketry/special machines. I learnt that admission for international students closes on June 20, 2011. I think applying for the 2012-13 academic year will give me the benefit of learning some Russian and in the meanwhile accrue some work experience.

2. Join the Armed Forces via the Short Services Commission
I’d love to be in the Engineering Core of the Armed Forces and help use space to improve India’s military prowess. This option is a bit clouded because I’m not entirely sure why I want to do it and is my father’s dream (he has not told me so openly  – but I see it in his eyes sometimes) of what I should be doing.

3. Get some job – marry and settle down
I know it makes you go eek in your guts but for some people it’s a very good option. At various points in my engineering degree, experience has made me want to do this. Complete my degree – get some job that pays well – marry and settle down. Not exactly path breaking but gives you time for hobbies like astronomy, weather man, philosophy etc.

More options are yet to be considered – like being a liason officer with ISRO, going to Bhutan and settling down there, going back to my older interest of working with a museum, becoming a weatherman or becoming a sadhu and wandering in the Himalayas . I probably wouldn’t do some of these out of sheer laziness but these are thoughts that have passed through my mind as answers when relatives in Kerala asked me the question – What next?


Me is back

It has been a tumultuous month of May. I was in Kerala with my folks for nearly 3 weeks and am now back in Mumbai. Will start contributing to Wikipedia from this month as well. Regular blogging should resume soon.

Status Updates

Trip to Kerala

We’re going on vacation to Kerala. We’re leaving on May 11 and will be back on May 30. Will continue to update the blog and add pictures when I get near an internet connection.

Status Updates

Weather – Renewables – Space

I’m in a period of re-definition. I’m re-defining what are my core goals and what are my add-on goals. I am a guy with various interests and I’m as passionate about one as the other. This makes things interesting when trying to make a career choice. The three things on top of my mind right now are – weather, renewables and space. Writing has slipped in and out of this. Whatever I do, I want to be able to do all of these and much more in my time.


Chai and Why: Origami and Mathematics

Chai and Why? is a public outreach effort of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR). Today I went to the session on “Origami and Mathematics”. This begins a series of Chai and Why? concentrated on children during the vacation season.

Today’s talk was by Vijay Arolkar and Mimansa Vahia. Before the talk, Sanjana Kapoor turned up and announced the Prithvi Theater’s Summer Workshop and the idea of having Prithvi Theater and its partners do special activities for kids during the summer. She even hung around till a few minutes into the talk.

Vijay Arolkar began the talk. He introduced his guru Prof. Natarajan who then introduced this group – Origami Mitra which met twice a month at Dadar. Few of its members were also present in the audience. Arolkar is a member of the TIFR’s Low Temperature Facility. His talk was filled with demonstrations that vowed the audience by some innovative techniques of forming basic shapes and models.

Mimansa Vahia, a PhD student in the Maths department at TIFR, took over and spoke about the axioms of origami and providing a strong theoretical basis for origami which enabled its application in mathematics. The example that stood and that got repeated throughout the day was the trisection of an angle which was made possible by origami.

The areas of application held more interest for me. Origami has formed the basis for several interesting applications like packing airbags, crumple zones in cars, camera lens, self folding sheets, folding of solar panels on a spacecraft, fitting space telescopes into compact launch vehicles etc. Origami has made available ways of packing airbags once certain parameters about its usage is known. It has been used to determine crumple zones in cars, places where the cars can fail on impact while causing minimum injury to its passengers. Its application has also enabled multiple camera lens to be replaced by a single lens having diamond shaped crystals arranged in a fashion that enables multiple reflections of the light passing through giving it the same effect that multiple optical lens do. This arrangement was arrived at using origami though the original one uses crystals. This enables camera lens miniaturisation and has been found in 2010. Self folding sheets are sheets which fold in certain ways on the passage of electric currents. The Miura fold is what has been used in the solar panels of spacecrafts.

This was followed by a hands-on paper folding experience in which we made a paper box, a fan, a speaking penguin and a toppling toy. We got to bring these home (although they didn’t let us keep the TIFR folder on which we built these models) and I even showed my brother how to make a toppling toy for himself.

A paper box made from A4 size paper. Image Credit: Pradeep Mohandas

A fan. Credit: Pradeep Mohandas

A Talking Penguin. Image Credit: Pradeep Mohandas
Toppling Toy. Image Credit: Pradeep Mohandas

This was my first experience in a hands-on workshop at Chai and Why? and I must say that it was fun. I was folding paper after a very very long time and unlike my school experience of crafts, I had a lot of fun. I hope I can attend a few meetings with Origami Mitra and re-ignite my dead crafty characteristics.

I will unfortunately miss the next two sessions of Chai and Why? called  Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star since I’ll be in Kerala.

[While looking for links, I found that the Origami article on Wikipedia has some fun links to explore and also the webpage of Robert Lang whose name continuously popped up along with a picture of him with a 5m telescope. Also many of the spacecrafts have a page where you can get instructions of how to build their paper models. HobbySpace is a good place to start in this regard.]


Visit to Shirdi

The last time I had been to Shirdi was as a 9 year old. I don’t remember much about that place and when my friend Pranav mentioned that he had plans to go there, I decided to join him. This was last Sunday. The plan was to leave on Friday night, reach there on Saturday morning, have an audience at Shirdi with Sai Baba and then head to Shani Shingnapur and then return back to Mumbai on Saturday night.

Pranav and I met at the private bus hub near Diamond Garden, Chembur to board the bus. The Dolphin Volvo bus arrived and boarded the bus and we departed at 10.45 pm. At 1.30 pm we arrived at our first stop and I woke up after trying to sleep. There were seat bugs (for want of a better name). My elbows were swollen with seat bug bite and it seemed that it was a general experience among passengers and not a particular experience with me. After a general patting down, I had a bite-less night.

We reached Shirdi at 5.55 am and we got a room that allowed us to bathe and change for Rs. 60. It was the top of someone’s home which was being lent for a daily or for bathing purposes. Since Shirdi is a holy place, it is general practice to be bathed and fresh. The room and bathroom were clean and also had a provision for hot water. The hot water was flowing through a plastic pipe generally used for electric purposes – which concerned me a bit but I used cold water.

Pranav led the way to the samadhi. There is as usual a very long line. The early hour and some smart maneuvering meant that we could make some time and only had to wait for about an hour and a half. The serpentine line went through a hall, down a flight of steps, up another flight of steps and suddenly we were inside the samadhi. When you reach in, the first thing that strikes you is how Hindu the place is for someone who had practised both Hinduism and Islam. Second was the amount of gold the place had for the man who believed in simplicity. We then went to some adjoining centers which were places where Sai Baba stayed, prayed, cooked etc. We then went to the shrine of a person who worked with Sai Baba and began the search for a jeep that would take us to Shani Shingnapur.

It is an interesting experience to discuss travel plans sitting inside a temple. We planned here on whether to go to Shani Shingnapur after breakfast or not. The decision was to head to Shani Shingnapur, a temple dedicated to Shani, the god Saturn, without breakfast. Pranav had been going on about this temple since the day we decided to head to Shirdi. He told me about the idea behind wearing orange clothes and a wet body while entering the temple and had even suggested I carry my orange clothes with me. He then helpfully pointed out that the orange clothes were available there on rent.

Pranav described the experience in the jeep best by comparing it with NASCAR. We joked that the drivers were more of an expert in reminding people about God than a priest in the temple. Pranav got the jolt of his life when the jeep passed in front of the temple. People wearing ordinary clothes were walking into the temple. A passenger in the front seat seemed equally jolted and asked about it to the driver. The driver explained that the Government thought it was a waste of time for devotees to be following rituals and decided to do away with it. So it was that we visited the temple without Pranav’s “orange clothes and wet body”.

The temple here is much simpler. The God is represented by a black rock on which devotees offer mustard oil which is poured on the rock. Some brought small plastic packets of oil, some small plastic bottles of oil and some even brought a cannister of oil! At the exit, we found a medical camp being conducted by the doctors from Ahmednagar Govt. Civil Hospital. This was my first round of blood donation. After a round of weight checks and jotting down personal details I was asked to press a “Squeeze-me” ball for about 5 mins to drive out a packet of blood. For my squeezing, I got a certificate, a unique identification number and a medal.

I felt a bit tired on the way back where I and Pranav had to be squeezed in with an older gentleman from Kolkata. On return to Shirdi, we had lunch (a much needed one) and took our bus back to Mumbai. This bus too suffered with lack of passengers. Efforts to revive passenger count by waiting for a hour and a half at Nashik failed and so the bus left following an internal revolt by passengers. We reached Mumbai an hour later than we would have.


Visit to the temple built by a sweet shop owner

I finally managed to graduate from my bachelors course in Mechanical Engineering. As congratulations poured in, some of my close relatives also let me know of their prayers and their expectations of my fulfilling them. The first one that I heard of was -“the most famous Ganapati temple in Pune”. Although this relative told me the name of this temple, I could not remember it no matter how hard I tried. Even while writing the title of this post, I could not remember the name of the temple without referring to my searches for the temple on Google.

While asking friends about the temple I continuously asked about the “temple built by a sweet owner” and they got it and named the temple. Despite several repetitions, I was not able to remember the name of the Dagadusheth Halwai Ganapati Temple.The temple was built by a sweet shop owner, on the advice of the guru a year after the death of a son.

I decided to go on Sunday – for no foreseeable reason. In the morning, I woke up later than I wanted to and then left for the bus stand after a breakfast of upma.I went to the Maitri Park stop and hoped to catch Shivneri (an air-conditioned bus that travels between Pune and Mumbai at 15 minute intervals). I looked for the ticket counter when a co-passenger suggested that I talk to the conductor and buy a ticket from him. Chance encounter – good advise. I asked the conductor if it was possible to buy the ticket directly – when he said yes, I leapt in.

The early morning wake up, even though it was late, meant that I wanted some sleep. The air conditioned environs and an empty co-passengers seat meant I could sleep well. I woke up once or twice but had good sleep all the way till Pune. There, aided by Google Maps, I got off at Shivajinagar, Pune and took a rickshaw to the temple.

The auto rickshaw driver was helpful to give me directions to get to the temple as I got off. I took one picture of the sideways of the temple – a multi-storeyed structure with intricate stone and wood work. It almost seemed like a Palace. But, the temple looked totally out of place in its locality. It also has an open structure whereby the idol is seen from the road and is open to a 180 degrees field of view. The queue was small probably because it was late morning on a Sunday and the hawkers didn’t trouble you and the persons who kept your shoe were kind and polite. As I walked in, prayed and sat down for some time soaking in the surroundings, I think I liked this open structure compared to the closed and fortress like Siddhivinayak. The temple is known to be very powerful and you felt it when you sat there. I wasn’t able to sit cross-legged or did not try. There were kind devotees who shared laddus. Inside, there was no push for you to pray fast and move. Everyone prayed at their own speed and in their own styles.

I enjoyed the temple and will probably go there every time I visit Pune.