PEN Open Book Award
Stylish Indian author Siddhartha Deb scooped the prestigious award for his novel “The Beautiful and the Damned”.
Deb was born in Meghalaya and grew up in Shillong. He is the author of two novels, the first a semi-autobiographical account of growing up in that “town…few people can find on a map.” Deb made his way from Shillong to Kolkata, and then to Columbia University. He is now a professor in creative writing at the New School, in New York.
Deb’s “The Beautiful and the Damned” has the feel of a novel as the sweeping India story is told through dents made by modern India in his characters’ lives. Deb follows the lives of teeming call centre workers, traders, businessmen, tycoons, debt-laden farmers and steel factory workers.
His book also has a riveting profile of a young Manipuri woman called Esther who works in Delhi, where her north-eastern features inspire subtle forms of racism.
Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award, 2012
Olympic medalists Vijay Kumar and Yogeshwar Dutt have been jointly conferred the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna award, country's highest sporting honour.
Arjuna Awards, 2012
Deepika Kumari (Archery), Laishram Bombayla Devi (Archery), Sudha Singh (Athletics), Kavita Ramdas Raut (Athletics), Ashwani Ponnappa (Badminton), Parupalli Kashyap (Badminton), Aditya S Mehta (Billiards and Snooker), Vikas Krishan (Boxing), Yuvraj Singh (Cricket), Sardar Singh (Hockey), Yashpal Solanki (Judo), Anup Kumar (Kabaddi), Samir Suhag (Polo), Annu Raj Singh (Shooting), Omkar Singh (Shooting), Joydeep Karmakar (Shooting), Deepika Pallikal (Squash), Sandeep Sejwal (Swimming), Ng. Sonia Chanu (Weightlifting), Narsingh Yadav (Wrestling), Rajinder Kumar (Wrestling), Geeta Phogat (Wrestling), M. Bimoljit Singh (Wushu), Deepa Mallick (Athletics, Paralympics), Ramkaran Singh (Athletics, Paralympics).
Dronacharya Awards, 2012
Virender Poonia (Athletics), Sunil Dabas (Kabaddi), Yashvir Singh (Wrestling), Harendra Singh (Hockey), Satyapal Singh (Para-sports, athletics), J.S. Bhatia (Athletics, for Life Time achievement), Bhawani Mukherjee (Table tennis, for Life Time achievement), B.I. Fernandez (Boxing).
Dhyan Chand Awards, 2012
Jagraj Singh Mann (Athletics), Gundeep Kumar (Hockey), Vinod Kumar (Wrestling) and Sukhbir Singh Tokas (Para-sports).
Curiosity lands on Mars
Curiosity, the largest and most advanced spacecraft ever sent to another planet, stuck its extraordinary landing on August 5, 2012, without a hitch, and is poised to begin its pioneering two-year hunt for the building blocks of life—signs that Earth’s creatures may not be alone in the universe.
The landing site was 248 million km from home, enough distance that the spacecraft’s elaborate landing sequence had to be automated. The Earth also “set” below the Mars horizon shortly before landing, making even delayed direct communication with mission control impossible—and confirmation of Curiosity’s fate tricky.
Engineers waited for a passing satellite, Odyssey, to relay a series of three messages from Curiosity. One indicated the robot’s rough position and how hard it had landed; another indicated that it was no longer moving; and a third indicated that the spacecraft was emitting a continuous stream of communication.
Curiosity is expected to revolutionize the understanding of Mars, gathering evidence that Mars is or was capable of fostering life, probably in microbial form.
The spacecraft is also expected to pave the way for important leaps in deep-space exploration, including bringing Martian rock or soil back to Earth for detailed analysis and, eventually, human exploration.
A six-wheeled, nuclear-powered geochemistry laboratory, Curiosity is the size of a small car—five times heavier and twice as long as previous Mars rovers. It is equipped with a suite of powerful instruments, including 17 cameras, lasers and a radiation detector. The rover can bore into rock and ingest samples, drawing them into an on-board chemistry lab and then sending the lab results home.
The primary mission is expected to last for at least one Martian year, or 687 Earth days.
Previous NASA missions have found evidence that Mars, now a cold and dry planet, had a warmer, watery past, so much so that scientists think of it as Earth’s space cousin. Every environment on Earth that contains liquid water also sustains life. Curiosity will search for the other building blocks of life, particularly carbon-carrying organic molecules.
Other than the decision to send the robot to Mars in the first place, the choice of a landing site was probably the most important issue scientists faced.
For five years, space scientists made impassioned arguments for their favoured site. In 2011, from a pool of 60 candidates, NASA and JPL decided to send Curiosity to Gale Crater, an ancient geological feature just south of the equator, caused when a meteor slammed into Mars three billion years ago.
Gale Crater won out largely because of an enormous mountain in its centre. Dubbed Mt. Sharp in honour of noted Caltech geologist Robert Phillip Sharp, the mountain is 5 km high.
NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, a satellite that was launched in 2005, has found that the mountain’s slopes contain distinct layers—clay at the bottom, an apparent remnant of Mars’s watery past, a layer of sulphates on top of that, and layers of sand and dust toward the top.
Similar to the way the walls of the Grand Canyon offer a layered view of the evolution of North America, space scientists believe Mt. Sharp’s slopes contain a preserved record of Mars’s past.
Curiosity will climb the lower portion of the mountain to investigate the makeup of the layers of soil.
Much of the discussion about Curiosity as it approached Mars focused on its complex landing sequence. In a matter of minutes, the spacecraft needed to change form five times—using a massive parachute, a “backpack” of reverse-thrust engines and a contraption known as a “skycrane” to reach the surface.
The unusual sequence carried huge benefits, namely allowing scientists to be far more particular about where Curiosity would land. JPL Director Charles Elachi called it a “quantum jump,” and said it was akin to flying a rocket from Cape Canaveral to the Rose Bowl—and then not only landing in the stadium, but landing on one pre-selected seat.
Because the landing site is so far away, a message sent from the rover takes 14 minutes to get home. The landing sequence took seven minutes—which meant that by the time scientists received a message that the spacecraft had entered the Martian atmosphere, it had already been on the surface for seven minutes. NASA dubbed this period of the mission “seven minutes of terror.”
Now, scientists can take their time. Ensuring that all of Curiosity’s instruments are working in proper fashion will take weeks. The rover is not expected to begin driving until early September, and will likely begin “scoop” samples several weeks later.
Curiosity broadcasts first song from Mars
Early on August 29, 2012, a musical number travelled 560 million km and premiered from the Red Planet to earth. It immediately became a moment of history in the field of space exploration because this was the first time a song was beamed to earth from the surface of Mars through NASA’s rover Curiosity.
This first interplanetary song, which also became an anthem for NASA education, appropriately called “Reach For The Stars”, was specially composed by the musician Will.i.am. who is a member of the Black Eyed Peas.
The technology behind this transmission involved the pre-recorded number being first relayed to Mars and then it was beamed back into the auditorium at JPL which was filled with students, scientists and media-persons, many of whom who clapped and swayed as the song was played on a large screen. It proved to be an instant hit among the students.
NASA launches twin satellites to explore Earth’s radiation belts
On August 30, 2012, NASA launched two science probes to explore the Van Allen radiation belts of Earth. It’s the first time two spacecraft will orbit in tandem amid the punishing radiation belts of Earth, brimming with highly charged particles capable of wrecking satellites.
These new satellites—shielded with thick aluminium—are designed to withstand an onslaught of cosmic rays for the next two years.
Scientists expect the $686 million mission to shed light on how the sun affects the Van Allen radiation belts, named after the astrophysicist who discovered them a half-century ago.
Earth’s two doughnut-shaped radiation belts stretch thousands of kms into space; these inner and outer belts are full of high-energy particles from the sun and elsewhere in the cosmos, trapped by Earth’s magnetic field.
Normally, the belts remain well above the International Space Station and low-flying satellites. But the belts can expand during solar storms right into the paths of orbiting spacecraft. If severe enough, the storms can cripple satellites and endanger astronauts, and disrupt power and communications on the ground.
The goal of this mission is to improve space weather forecasting.
The satellites will traverse both the inner and outer belts, flying as close as 480 kilometres to Earth and as far away as almost 32,000 kilometres, and occasionally lapping one another. At times, the probes will be 160 kilometres apart, at other times 38,600 kilometres apart, or three of Earth’s diameters.
Having two satellites will help the scientists to see whether energy disturbances affect just one or both, allowing for measurements over space as well as time.
For now, these newest satellites are called A and B. After a two-month checkout, NASA plans to give them real names. Perhaps Van and Allen?