America’s divided economists

America’s divided economists


Subroto Roy

First published in

Business Standard 26 October 2008

Future doctoral theses about the Great Tremor of 2008 will ask how it was that the Fed chief, who was an academic economist, came to back so wholeheartedly the proposals of the investment banker heading the US Treasury. If Herbert Hoover and FDR in the 1930s started something called fiscal policy for the first time, George W Bush’s lameduck year has marked the total subjugation of monetary policy.

In his 1945 classic, History of Banking Theory, the University of Chicago’s Lloyd Mints said: “No reorganisation of the Federal Reserve System, while preserving its independence from the Treasury, can offer a satisfactory agency for the implementation of monetary policy. The Reserve banks and their branches should be made agencies of the Treasury and all monetary powers delegated by Congress should be given to the Secretary of the Treasury…. It is not at all certain that Treasury control of the stock of money would always be reasonable… but Treasury influence cannot be excluded by the creation of a speciously independent monetary agency that cannot have adequate powers for the performance of its task…” Years later, Milton Friedman himself took a similar position suggesting legislation “to end the independence of the Fed by converting it into a bureau of the Treasury Department…”(see, for example, Essence of Friedman, p 416).

Ben Bernanke’s Fed has now ended any pretence of monetary policy’s independence from the whims and exigencies of executive power. Yet Dr Bernanke’s fellow academic economists have been unanimous in advising caution, patience and more information and reflection upon the facts. The famous letter of 122 economists to the US Congress was a rare statement of sense and practical wisdom. It agreed the situation was difficult and needed bold action. But it said the Paulson-Bernanke plan was an unfair “subsidy to investors at taxpayers’ expense. Investors who took risks to earn profits must also bear the losses. Not every business failure carries systemic risk. The government can ensure a well-functioning financial industry, able to make new loans to creditworthy borrowers, without bailing out particular investors and institutions whose choices proved unwise.”

Besides, the plan was unclear and too far-reaching. “Neither the mission of the new agency nor its oversight are clear. If taxpayers are to buy illiquid and opaque assets from troubled sellers, the terms, occasions, and methods of such purchases must be crystal clear ahead of time and carefully monitored afterwards…. If the plan is enacted, its effects will be with us for a generation. For all their recent troubles, America’s dynamic and innovative private capital markets have brought the nation unparalleled prosperity. Fundamentally weakening those markets in order to calm short-run disruptions is desperately short-sighted.”

The House’s initial bipartisan “backbench revolt” against “The Emergency Economic Stabilisation Act of 2008” (ESSA) followed this academic argument and rejected the Bernanke Fed’s advice. Is there an “emergency”, and if so what is its precise nature? Is this “economic stabilisation”, and if so, how is it going to work? The onus has been on Dr Bernanke and his staff to argue both, not merely to assert them. Even if the House “held its nose” and passed the measure for now, the American electorate is angry and it is anybody’s guess how a new President and Congress will alter all this in a few months.

Several academic economists have argued for specific price-stabilisation of the housing market being the keystone of any large, expensive and risky government intervention. (John McCain has also placed this in the political discussion now.) Roughly speaking, the housing supply-curve has shifted so far to the right that collapsed housing prices need to be dragged back upward by force. Columbia Business School economists Glenn Hubbard and Chris Mayer, both former Bush Administration officials, have proposed allowing “all residential mortgages on primary residences to be refinanced into 30-year fixed-rate mortgages at 5.25 per cent…. close to where mortgage rates would be today with normally functioning mortgage markets….Lower interest rates will mean higher overall house prices…” Yale’s Jonathan Koppell and William Goetzmann have argued very similarly the Treasury “could offer to refinance all mortgages issued in the past five years with a fixed-rate, 30-year mortgage at 6 per cent. No credit scores, no questions asked; just pay off the principal of the existing mortgage with a government check. If monthly payments are still too high, homeowners could reduce their indebtedness in exchange for a share of the future price appreciation of the house. That is, the government would take an ownership interest in the house just as it would take an ownership interest in the financial institutions that would be bailed out under the Treasury’s plan.”

Beyond the short run, the US may play the demographic card by inviting in a few million new immigrants (if nativist feelings hostile to the outsider or newcomer can be controlled, especially in employment). Bad mortgages and foreclosures would vanish as people from around the world who long to live in America buy up all those empty houses and apartments, even in the most desolate or dismal locations. If the US’s housing supply curve has moved so far to the right that the equilibrium price has gone to near zero, the surest way to raise the equilibrium price would be by causing a new wave of immigration leading to a new demand curve arising at a higher level.

Such proposals seek to address the problem at its source. They might have been expected from the Fed’s economists. Instead, ESSA speaks of massive government purchase and control of bad assets “downriver”, without any attempt to face the problem at its source. This makes it merely wishful to think such assets can be sold for a profit at a later date so taxpayers will eventually gain. It is as likely as not the bad assets remain bad assets.

Indeed the University of Chicago’s Casey Mulligan has argued there is a financial crisis involving the banking sector but not an economic one: “We’re not entering a second Great Depression.” The marginal product of capital remains high and increasing “far above the historical average. The third-quarter earnings reports from some companies already suggest that America’s non-financial companies are still making plenty of money…. So, if you are not employed by the financial industry (94 per cent of you are not), don’t worry. The current unemployment rate of 6.1 per cent is not alarming, and we should reconsider whether it is worth it to spend $700 billion to bring it down to 5.9 per cent.”

Dr Bernanke has been a close student of A Monetary History of the United States in which Milton Friedman and Anna J Schwartz argued that the Fed inadvertently worsened the Great Contraction of 1929-1933 by not responding to Congress. Let not future historians find that the Fed, at the behest of the Treasury Secretary, worsened the Great Tremor of 2008 by bamboozling Congress into hasty action.


A Complete History of Mankind’s Moon Missions (2006)

Compiled from open sources by Dr Subroto Roy, c. 2006

(NOTE: These were from notes made by me prior to my August 13 2006 article in The Statesman titled “India’s Moon Mission”.  I make no claim to any originality whatsoever to any of the text.  As I recall, the notes were from open sources including NASA.  Please email me if there are any questions about the text.  They are being published today in a bit of a rush in view of Chandrayaan’s launch this morning 22 Oct 2008.)

1. Pioneer 0,  Aug 17 1958  Failed lunar orbiter. 1st stage rocket exploded 77 seconds after liftoff.

2. Luna 1958A Sep 23 1958 Failed lunarimpactor. Rocket exploded after liftoff.

3. Pioneer 1, Oct 11 1958 Failed orbiter. 2nd and 3rd  stages failed to separate evenly; failed to achieve trajectory, but sent data on Van Allen  Belt and micrometeorites.

4. Luna 1958B , Oct 12 1958 Failed impactor.   Rocket exploded after liftoff.

5. Pioneer 2, Nov 8 1958 Failed orbiter.  2nd stage failed to ignite; fell back to Earth

6. Luna1958C  Dec 4 1958 Failed  impactor. 1st stage rocket failed

7. Pioneer 3/4, Dec 6 1958 Failed lunar flyby.   1st stage rocket shut off early; causing crash.

8. Luna 1 Jan 2 1959 Failed impactor.   Missed Moon, went into solar orbit, but sent data by releasing sodium vapour cloud 110,000 kms from Earth, allowing study of interplanetary gases.

9. Luna 1959A Jun 18 1959? Failed impactor.  Guidance system failed, unable to reach  Earth orbit

10. Pioneer 4 , Mar 3 1959 Successful lunar flyby. Passed within 60,000 km of Moon, returned data on lunar radiation levels, then entered solar orbit.

11. Luna 2 , Sep 12 1959 Successful lunar impactor.   First craft to land on another celestial body.  Impacted Moon’s surface Sep 14 1959, east of Sea of Serenity near raters Aristides, Archimedes, Autolycus at 29.10 N, 0.00 E. Did not detect magnetic field around Moon.

12. Luna 3 Oct 4 1959  Successful flyby. First craft to take photos of far side of Moon.   Trajectory took craft around the Moon and back, re-entered Earth’s atmosphere on Apr 20 1960.

13. Pioneer P-3 Nov 26 1959? Failed flyby.  Protective cover broke away after 45 seconds in flight, failed to reach orbit, crashed to Earth.

14. Ranger 1 August 23, 1961 Failed Earth-orbit test vehicle. To test “parking orbit” around Earth to give engineers time to calculate accurate trajectory to follow to Moon.  Made it to low Earth orbit,  then engines, which were supposed to re-ignite after 13 minutes and burn for 90 seconds, burned for a few seconds only and shut off.  Re-entered Earth’s atmosphere after 111 orbits.

15. Ranger 2 Nov 18 1961 Failed Earth-orbit test vehicle. Engines failed to re-ignite after spacecraft entered low Earth orbit, and burned up in atmosphere

16. Ranger 3 January. 26, 1962 Failed lunar lander. To take close-up images before impacting, missed the Moon and ended in solar orbit.

17. Ranger 4 April 23, 1962Failed lunar lander.  Lunar impact: April 26, 1962    On board communication failure;  ground control could track it until it crashed on far side of the Moon but unable to collect any data.

18. Ranger 5  Failed lunar lander.  October 18, 1962 Solar cell failed shortly after launch. Without power, engineers unable to control the spacecraft and it  missed the Moon by 720 kilometers.

19. Sputnik 25 Failed lunar lander.  Launch: January 4, 1963 Failed to transfer to lunar trajectory and burned up as it re-entered Earth’s atmosphere.

20. Luna 4  Failed lunar orbiter.  April 2, 1963 Contact lost after it passed within 9,300 kilometers of the Moon.

21. Ranger 6 Failed lunar impactor.  January 30, 1964 Lunar impact: Feb 2, 1964 cameras failed and no pictures were returned, crashed in Sea of Tranquillity.

22. Ranger 7  Successful lunar impactor . July 28, 1964  Lunar impact: July 31, 1964    Sent back first high-quality images of lunar surface,  more than 4,300 images, before crash-landing in Sea of Clouds.

23. Ranger 8   Successful lunar impactor. Launch: February 17, 1965      Lunar impact: February 20, 1965 Took more than 7,100 high-quality images of the lunar surface before crash-landing in Sea of Tranquility

24. Ranger 9    Successful lunar impactor.      Launch: March 21, 1965      Ranger 9 took more than 5,800 images of the lunar surface before it crash-landed in the crater Alphonsus. Network television broadcast images from the spacecraft as they were received — live from the Moon!

25. Luna 5  Failed lunar lander.    Launch: May 9, 1965      Lunar Impact: May 12, 1965 First-ever attempt to soft-land a spacecraft on  Moon. Luna 5’s retro-rockets failed to fire and the spacecraft crash-landed near Sea of Clouds.

26. Luna 6 – Failed lunar lander.     Launch: June 8, 1965      On its way to the Moon, a rocket failed to turn off after a trajectory correction, so missed Moon and went into solar orbit.

27. Zond 3  Successful lunar flyby.  Launch: July 18, 1965  Took 25 images as it flew by the far side of the Moon and     transmitted them back to Earth nine days later. After passing the Moon,  the spacecraft went into a solar orbit.

28. Luna 7 Failed lunar lander.   Launch: October 4, 1965      Lunar impact: October 7, 1965 Luna 7 made it to the Moon, but its retrorockets switched on too soon. The spacecraft crash-landed in the Ocean of Storms, west of the crater Kepler.

29. Luna 8  Failed lunar lander.   Launch: December 3, 1965  Lunar impact: December 6, 1965    Luna 8 made it to the Moon, but its retrorockets fired too late and the  spacecraft crash-landed in the Ocean of Storms, east of the crater Galilei.

30. Luna 9  Successful lunar lander.   Launch: Jan. 31, 1966      Lunar landing: February 3, 1966   First to make controlled landing onto surface of another celestial body. Landed on sloping floor of shallow crater at 7.08 N, Longitude 295.63 E, within Oceanus Procellarum. Over the next two days, the spacecraft sent three panoramas of lunar landscape. During the second and third transmission, it shifted a few  centimeters, and third set of images taken from a slightly different angle, allowing scientists to construct a  stereoscopic view of the landing site and determine the distances to      various rocks and depressions. Last communication with the spacecraft was on February 5, 1966.

31.  Cosmos 111      Failed lunar flyby. March 1, 1966         The spacecraft was unable to achieve a lunar trajectory. It re-entered Earth’s atmosphere on March 3, 1966.

32. Luna 10  Successful lunar orbiter.  Launch: March 31, 1966      Lunar orbit insertion: April 2, 1966. First spacecraft to orbit around another celestial body. Studied radiation levels and cosmic ray intensities and took readings of the Moon’s weak magnetic field. Transmitted data for two months, circling the Moon 460 times before mission ended May 30, 1966.

33. Surveyor 1 – Successful lunar lander.   Launch: May 30, 1966     controlled landing on the surface of the Moon, at 2.45 S, 316.79 E.  Surveyor 1 took more than 11,100 images of the lunar landscape during its 6-week mission.

34. Lunar Orbiter 1   Successful lunar orbiter.    Launch: August 10, 1966      Sent back high-quality TV images of a vast area of lunar surface, including first detailed images of potential Apollo landing sites. After circling Moon 527 times in 77 days, ground control deliberately crashed the craft onto the Moon’s surface, so it would not represent a hazard to upcoming manned missions.

35. Luna 11  Successful lunar orbiter.  Launch: August 24, 1966      Lunar orbit insertion: August 27, 1966    Designed to test new technology, completed 277 orbits       before its mission was terminated on October 1, 1966.

36. Surveyor 2 Failed lunar lander.  Launch: September 20, 1966  Lunar impact: September 22, 1966     Just before touchdown, one of Surveyor 2’s thrusters malfunctioned, and spacecraft tumbled out of control. Crashed into the Moon southeast of the crater Copernicus.

37. Luna 12   Successful lunar orbiter.  Launch: October 22, 1966      Lunar orbit insertion: October 25, 1966    took 1,100 pictures of the Moon, including images of the Sea of      Rains and area surrounding the crater Aristarchus. The mission was  terminated on January 19 1967 after 602 orbits.

38. Lunar Orbiter 2  Successful lunar orbiter. Launch: November 6, 1966      Lunar orbit insertion: November 6, 1966     Lunar impact: October 11, 1967    Took more than  800 pictures including   an oblique view of the crater Copernicus. Was deliberately sent       crashing into the lunar surface on October 11, 1967,

39. Luna  13 Successful lunar lander.  Launch: December 21, 1966  Lunar landing: December 24, 1966 bounced to a landing on the lunar surface, coming to a rest in the       Ocean of Storms (Oceanus Procellarum) at 18.87 N, 297.95 E, between the  craters Selencus and Craft. The lander collected soil samples and  conducted experiments to determine the soil density and radioactivity. The  mission ended on December 30, 1966, when the spacecraft’s supplies were depleted.

40. Lunar Orbiter 3 Successful lunar orbiter.  Launch: February 4, 1967      Lunar orbit insertion: February 8, 1967.  The orbit was altered several times to give controllers on Earth more experience with communications;  was able to photograph Surveyor 2 on the surface.       Mission ended on October 9, 1967, when controllers deliberately crashed the spacecraft into the Moon.

41. Surveyor 3  Successful lunar lander. Launch: April 17, 1967      Lunar landing: April 20, 1967      As it came in for a soft landing, one thruster did not turn off properly, as a result spacecraft bounced before coming to rest in Ocean of Storms (Oceanus Procellarum), at   3.01 S, 336.66 E. A scoop was used to collect soil samples, and a camera took more than 6,300 images.

42. Lunar Orbiter 4  Successful lunar orbiter.  Launch: May 4, 1967      Lunar orbit insertion: May 8, 1967  Lunar Orbiter 4 was the first to take pictures of the Moon’s south pole.   It took images from orbit for 8 months before controllers deliberately crashed the spacecraft into the Moon.

43. Surveyor 4   Failed lunar lander.  Launch: July 14, 1967  Controllers lost contact with Surveyor 4 just two and a half minutes before it was to touch down in Sinus Medii.

44. Lunar Orbiter 5 Successful lunar orbiter.   Launch: August 1, 1967      Lunar orbit insertion: August 5, 1967. With this, more than 99% of the Moon’s surface had been mapped by the Lunar Orbiter spacecraft. Ended when controllers sent spacecraft crashing into the lunar surface on January 31, 1968.

45. Surveyor 5   Successful lunar lander.   Launch: September 8, 1967      Lunar landing: September 10, 1967    Despite a helium leak that occurred during its trip to the Moon,       controllers were able to bring Surveyor 5 to a successful landing in the Sea of Tranquillity (Mare Tranquillitatis), at 1.41 N, 23.18 E. Controllers ordered the spacecraft to fire its engine to test composition of the soil beneath the lander. The test firing blew away a few clumps of soil but did not create a crater. Final transmission received on December 17, 1967.

46. Surveyor 6  Successful lunar lander. Launch: November 7, 1967      Lunar landing: November 9, 1967    Touched down in Sinus Medii, at 0.49 N, 358.60 E. Once on  surface, took a series of pictures and soil samples. On November 17, controllers ordered the spacecraft’s engines to fire,    lifting Surveyor 6 off the lunar surface 3 meters (10 feet) and setting it down again a few feet from the original landing site. The spacecraft then took pictures of the former landing site, checking for evidence of a crater created by the rocket’s exhaust. No crater was found, indicating  the Moon’s surface was solid enough to support a manned landing. Last  contact on Dec 14, 1967.

47. Surveyor 7  Successful lunar lander.   Launch: January 7, 1968      Lunar landing: January 9, 1968   Landed in the lunar highlands, near the north rim of the crater Tycho, at 40.86 S, Longitude 348.53 E. Scientists used the scoop on the spacecraft to weigh lunar rocks, based on how much current was needed to lift each rock. Images sent back indicated, for the first time, that some lunar rocks had been molten at some time in their history. Mission successfully completed on February 21,  1968.

48. Luna 14  Successful lunar orbiter.   Launch: April 7, 1968      Lunar orbit insertion: April 10, 1968.  Spacecraft took images of the Moon and studied the lunar gravitational field.

49.  Zond 5   Successful lunar flyby and back.  Launch: September 15, 1968         Zond 5 left Earth orbit, flew around the Moon and returned to our planet,       splashing down in the Indian Ocean. The spacecraft was recovered and taken back to the USSR for study. Not much information was released but many believed Zond 5 was one of the last steps before the USSR was to land cosmonauts on the Moon.

50. Zond 6  Successful lunar flyby and back.   Launch: November 10, 1968  Zond 6 may have been the USSR’s final test before launching cosmonauts to the Moon. Once the spacecraft left Earth orbit, it took 2 days to reach the Moon. There, it took pictures as it swung close to the surface. Zond 6 then returned to Earth, parachuting to a landing within Soviet territory.

51. Apollo 8   Successful manned lunar orbit    Launch: December 21, 1968      Lunar orbit insertion: December 24, 1968 Astronauts Frank Borman, James Lovell, and William Anders first humans to leave Earth and travel to the Moon. They arrived at the Moon, completed 10 orbits, and returned to Earth on December 27, 1968.   Live TV images broadcast from the trip included an iconic image of Earth rising over the lunar horizon.

52. Zond 1969A Failed lunar flyby and return craft.    Launch: January 20, 1969          The launch vehicle’s second stage shut down early and the spacecraft failed to achieve Earth orbit.

53. Luna 1969A Failed lunar rover. Launch: February 19, 1969    Launch vehicle exploded shortly after liftoff.

54. Zond L1S-1  Failed lunar orbiter. Launch: February 21, 1969          Launch vehicle exploded shortly after liftoff.

55. Luna 1969B      Failed lunar sample return. Launch: April 15, 1969          Launch vehicle apparently exploded on the launch pad.

56. Apollo 10 – Successful manned lunar orbiter. Launch: May 18, 1969  Lunar orbit insertion: May 21 1969 Astronauts Thomas Stafford, John Young, and Eugene Cernan went into lunar orbit, where they tested procedures for the first moon landing. Apollo 10 splashed down in the Pacific Ocean on May 26, 1969.

57. Luna 1969C    Failed lunar sample return.  Launch: June 14, 1969 Launch vehicle exploded shortly after liftoff.

58. Luna 15  Failed lunar sample return.  Launch: July 13, 1969  Was launched in a veil of secrecy only three days before Apollo 11. The USSR did not reveal the target or mission of Luna 15 causing concern on the part of the USA. Would Luna 15’s       mission interfere with Apollo 11? Where would it land? Would there be       communication interference? Just two hours before the liftoff of Apollo 11, Luna 15 began its descent to the surface in the Sea of Crisis. The       spacecraft crash landed on the lunar surface.

59.  Apollo 11    Successful first manned lunar landing. Launch: July 16, 1969      Lunar landing: July 20, 1969    While astronaut Michael Collins orbited overhead, Neil Armstrong and Edwin       “Buzz” Aldrin became first humans to land on the Moon, within the Sea       of Tranquillity. Remained on the lunar surface for more than 21 hours and collected 20 kilograms (44 pounds) of samples. Apollo 11 returned to Earth on July 24, 1969, splashing down in the Pacific Ocean.

60. Zond 7  Successful lunar flyby and back.  Launch: August 7, 1969      Lunar landing August 14, 1969      Zond 7 flew to the Moon and back, taking colour pictures of the Earth and  lunar surface along the way. Soft-landed in Kazakhstan.

61. Cosmos 300      Failed lunar sample return. Launch: September 23, 1969  The spacecraft reached Earth orbit, and its rocket failed.  Was unable to continue to the Moon.

62. Cosmos 305  Failed lunar sample return.  Launch: October 22, 1969          Spacecraft reached Earth orbit, and its rocket failed.  Was unable to continue to the Moon.

63. Apollo 12      Successful manned lunar landing.  Launch: November 14, 1969      Lunar landing: November 19, 1969  While astronaut Richard Gordon orbited overhead, Charles Conrad and Alan Bean landed on the Moon. Apollo 12 touched down in the Ocean of Storms,  within walking distance of Surveyor 3. The astronauts were on the lunar  surface for 31.5 hours and collected 34 kilograms (75 pounds) of samples.  They returned to Earth on November 24.

64. Apollo 13  Failed manned lunar landing Launch: April 11, 1970          When Apollo 13 was halfway to the Moon, an explosion in the spacecraft’s       Service Module required mission control to cancel the scheduled Moon landing and focus on bringing astronauts James Lovell, Fred Haise, and       John Swigert safely home which they did.

65. Luna 16      Successful lunar sample return Launch: September 12, 1970      Lunar landing: September 20, 1970         First robotic mission to land on the Moon, collect samples       of dust and rock, and return those samples to Earth. Also the       first spacecraft to land in lunar darkness. Landed in       the Sea of Fertility (Mare Fecunditatis) at 0.68 S, 56.30 E. After       collecting dust and rock samples, the spacecraft was launched back into       space 26 hours later. Returned to Earth on September 24 with a soft landing, bringing back 101 grams (3.5 ounces) of Moon rocks.

66. Luna 17/Lunokhod 1  Successful lunar sample return
67. Apollo 14   Successful manned lunar landing Launch: January 31, 1971      Lunar landing: February 5, 1971  While astronaut Stuart Roosa orbited overhead, Alan Shepard and Edgar  Mitchell landed on the Moon. Apollo 14 touched down in the Fra Mauro highlands, the landing site originally chosen for Apollo 13. The       astronauts were on the lunar surface for 33 hours and collected 42  kilograms (94 pounds) of samples before returning to Earth on February 9.

68. Apollo 15  Successful manned lunar landing  Launch: July 26, 1971      Lunar landing: July 30, 1971          While astronaut Alfred Worden orbited overhead, David Scott and James Irwin landed on the Moon in the Hadley Rille region. Apollo 15 was the first lander to carry a rover. Astronauts drove rover almost 28  kilometers and  were on the lunar surface for almost       67 hours and collected 77 kilograms of samples before       returning to Earth on August 7.

69. Luna 18    Failed lunar landing  Launch: September 2, 1971      Lunar orbit insertion: September 7, 1971    After completing 54 orbits of the Moon, the spacecraft fired its braking thrusters and began its descent to the lunar surface. Communications were  lost upon landing.

70. Luna 19      Successful lunar orbiter   Launch: September 28, 1971      Lunar orbit insertion: October 3, 1971  Luna 19 studied the lunar space environment, including radiation, plasma, the solar wind, and the lunar gravity field

71. Luna 20  Successful lunar sample return  Launch: February 14, 1972      Lunar landing: February 21, 1972    Luna 20 soft-landed in the Apollonius highlands near Sea of Fertility.  Collected samples and then lifted off the next day. The       sealed capsule, containing 30 grams of lunar rocks and dust,  landed in the USSR on February 25 and was retrieved the following       day.

72. Apollo 16  Successful manned lunar landing  Launch: April 16, 1972      Lunar landing: April 21, 1972.  While astronaut Thomas Mattingly orbited overhead, John Young and Charles Duke landed in the Descartes region on the Moon. Apollo 16 carried a lunar  rover that astronauts drove 27 kilometers  They were on the       lunar surface for 71 hours and collected almost 95 kilograms of samples before returning to Earth on April 27.

73. Soyuz L3      Failure lunar orbiter and test vehicle  Launch: November 23, 1972     Was designed to test a capsule that was to function as the base for a lunar lander. Just 90 seconds after launch, 6 of the 30 engines shut  down, triggering a catastrophic failure of the launch vehicle.

74. Apollo 17 –  Launch: December 7, 1972  Lunar landing: December 11, 1972      Successful manned lunar landing. While astronaut Ronald Evans orbited overhead, Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt landed in the Taurus-Littrow region on the Moon. Schmitt was the first geologist to land on the Moon. Cernan and Schmitt drove 30       kilometers in their lunar rover, collected 110 kilograms of samples, and spent 75 hours on the lunar surface before returning to Earth on December 19. Apollo 17 was the last human landing on the Moon — or any other place in the solar system.

75. Luna 21/Lunokhod 2 – Launch: January. 8, 1973      Lunar landing: January 15, 1973 Successful lunar rover.  The rover first took a panoramic shot of the landing site, before it  rolled off of its protective shell and onto the lunar surface. The rover   was powered by solar panels and kept warm at night by a radioactive heat  source. The mission lasted 4 months (4 lunar days), during which it took  more than 80,000 television pictures and travelled 37km.

76. Luna 22 – Launched May 29, 1974 Lunar landing: June 2, 1974Successful lunar orbiter studied Moon’s magnetic field,      gamma ray emissions, gravitational field. mission ended  Nov   1975.

77. Luna 23 – Oct 28, 1974Failed lunar sample return    :damaged during its moon landing on November 6, 1974 and was unable to collect samples. transmitted data for 3 days before falling silent.

78. Luna 24 – Aug 9, 1976      Lunar landing: Aug 18, 1976Successful lunar sample return    Soft-landed in Sea of Crises. Collected 170 grams lunar dust and rocks, returned to Earth on August  22.

79.  Hiten – (Muses-A)Jan 24 1990Successful lunar trajectory test  launched into  highly elliptical Earth orbit that took it past  the Moon 10 times. It released Hagoromo, a small spacecraft that was to go  into lunar orbit, but its transmitter failed before it reached the Moon.  The Japanese used Hiten to test various technologies for future lunar   missions. The spacecraft was intentionally crashed into the moon on April 10, 1993.

80. Clementine – April 25, 1994 Successful lunar orbiter; failed asteroid rendezvous spacecraft flew by Earth twice during       the first month of its mission before going into orbit around the Moon.  Once in lunar orbit, Clementine began its primary 70-day mapping mission.       Then entered a circumlunar orbit and was to have flown on       to an encounter with the asteroid Geographos in July 1994. But a malfunctioning thruster depleted all manoeuvering fuel and the spacecraft was stuck in Earth orbit. It lost power in June 1994, after       studying the Van Allen radiation belts.

81. Lunar Prospector –       Launch: January 7, 1998      Successful lunar orbiter designed to go into a low polar orbit around the Moon search for water ice and other minerals in permanently shadowed polar  craters. During its 19-month mission, Lunar Prospector completed a map of  the Moon’s surface composition. On July 31, 1999, mission controllers  crashed the spacecraft into a crater near the south pole. Observers from Earth watched for any signs of water vapor that might have been released during the impact, but none was seen.

82. SMART-1 –Sep 27, 2003 Lunar orbit insertion: Nov 15, 2004      Successful first ESA lunar orbiter (ESA)Powered only by an ion (solar-electric) engine, to test  technologies for future deep space   missions.

83. SELENE   2007  ?

84. Chang’e 1 2007?

85. Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter 2008?

?86. Chandrayaan-1 –Lunar orbiter, Launched October 22 2008.

Shri G Madhavan Nair, Padma Bhushan, Chairman, ISRO

Dear Sir,

Warm congratulations on the successful launch of the PSLV rocket this morning carrying the Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft atop it.  As an Indian citizen, I trust all the plans announced by yourself and your colleagues over the last few years shall succeed in this complex endeavour.

In an article “India’s Moon Mission” published in the Editorial Page of The Statesman on August 13 2006, I had expressed the hope of seeing from ISRO  a  thorough technical survey of all of mankind’s attempts at the Moon from which our Mission could have learnt appropriate lessons.   No such survey was apparently done, and hence I am enclosing below a brief survey from open sources, compiled by a lay citizen such as myself.  This may be found helpful by your teams in placing our Mission in appropriate historical, scientific and technological context.

With best regards

Subroto Roy,

October 22 2008.

Excuse me, but ISRO’s self-congratulation is absurdly premature!

Author’s Note, December 28 2008:  This post of mine has been superceded ex post facto by the following text:

Chandrayaan adds a little good cheer! Well done, ISRO!

The news that Chandrayaan-I has sent back scientific data as intended is excellent.  ISRO has my warm congratulations at last! Iron is apparently very abundant in lunar rock so discovering it is not revolutionary but even so, the fact India has a successful lunar orbiter which is sending back signals and scientific data is simply delightful. It brings good cheer in a season marred by the Mumbai massacres and the clouds of war.

On November 9 2008, I had incidentally diagnosed the basis of my own earlier pessimism about Chandrayaan as follows, reproduced here again:
“I have been very pessimistic about Chandrayaan-I’s prospects and I am delighted to hear ISRO say it has been successful in placing the spacecraft in lunar orbit.   I have had to wonder where, precisely, my pessimism was mistaken.  The answer is that I had completely left out in my thinking the vast technological progress that has taken place in telecommunications  and telemetry in the last 40 years.  I had surveyed the history of similar attempts by the USSR and USA in the 1960s and that was a history littered by failures of  many sorts.    Let aside rocket-launch failures, the other main sources of failure were in trajectories and in communications.  I have been deeply concerned that India was simply going to fall in the same pitfalls along the way.   But  what I neglected was that our attempt was being made forty years  later and the world has seen enormous technological progress during that time, especially in telecom.  The Soviet and American missions took place in the early 1960s when, for example, colour television hardly existed.  Today, in 2008, ISRO seems to have managed control and guidance systems that have been up to the (very complex) task of placing the spacecraft in lunar orbit.  Hats off to ISRO if it turns out they have succeeded, and cheers if they actually manage to get the scientific data they have wished to receive.

The same mistake that I made here in a  field not my own is what I have myself pointed out being made  in a different context regarding the current world financial crisis. Viz., I said in my September 18 2008 Business Standard article “October 1929? Not!” that the world since the 1929 stock market crash had witnessed so much technological progress that the current crisis could not be compared to the one back then.”


Hats off to all at ISRO!

Subroto Roy

The original text was as follows:


Chandrayaan-1 had not completed a single “parking orbit” around Earth (in fact had just reached the atmosphere above Indonesia) before a dozen scientific bureaucrats at ISRO were pouring forth self-congratulations in front of TV cameras — and Indian television news media, including the privately-owned NDTV, were proclaiming “Moon Mission Successful”!

Hello, hello, ISRO and Indian journalists: all of you need a serious reality-check!

Of course India has put satellites into terrestrial space which has been wonderful for telecommunications etc.

But that is not what the present mission is purportedly about.

Please wait until we have managed to get Chandrayan

to escape Earth’s gravity,

reach the Moon’s vicinity,

not crash into the Moon,

or miss it altogether,

(I leave out getting into lunar orbit itself, let aside transmit any data from lunar orbit)

before all the self-congratulations.

No one should want to contribute, after all, to what might still be seen as a large and expensive Government of India publicity/propaganda stunt.   Remember that credibility is all important to the good scientist.  (Just because New Delhi may be delusional does not mean all-India needs to be so as well.)

Subroto Roy, Kolkata

My Subjective Probabilities on India’s Moon Mission

[Author’s Note December 29 2008: Please see my ‘Chandrayaan adds a little good cheer! Well done ISRO!”  — as a good Bayesian would, I  have had to update my subjective probabilities ex post and gladly so!]

The subjective probability I would place on the odds

of our Moon rocket leaving earth orbit successfully is 20:1 against,
of it reaching the moon’s vicinity about 50:1 against,
of it entering lunar orbit successfully about 100:1 against,
and of it transmitting half the data it is intended to about 200:1 against.

Going to the Moon requires a spacecraft reach an “escape” velocity of some 40,000 km per hour. After some 324,000 km, the craft escapes Earth’s gravity and comes to a “standstill” or “neutral” point, a fictional station on the Earth-Moon axis, still some 32,000 km (about 19 Moon radii) away from the Moon. The Moon’s gravity then gradually takes over, drawing the spacecraft faster and faster towards the Moon, to either land on its surface or go into orbit around it, though to avoid a fatal impact crashing into the Moon, the spacecraft may require retrorockets to slow itself down.

All Indians will be delighted if the Moon-launch  tomorrow is successful. At the same time, all Indians, especially millions of wide-eyed children, will be more than disappointed if ISRO’s plans fail through avoidable error.  It was of the highest national importance to try to ensure beforehand that the Indian mission succeeded if it is going to be tried at all.  That has not taken place.

The numerous sources of possible failure include

(A) launch-failure causing the spacecraft to never reach, let aside exit from, terrestrial space onto a path to the Moon, all through belts of intense heat and radiation;

(B) trajectory-failure causing the spacecraft to move wrongly through cislunar and translunar space, miss the Moon and go into solar orbit like everything else in the solar system;

(C) failing to enter lunar orbit, crashing into the Moon instead;

(D) failing to transmit intended data from lunar orbit.

Only if all these and more are avoided, can ISRO’s Moon mission be considered successful.

Here are some questions the PM and his Government needed to answer before the liftoff but failed to do so:

1. Is there an indigenous rocket powerful enough for a spacecraft to reach 40,000 kmph, the escape-velocity from Earth’s gravity?  If a foreign rocket is being used in whole or in part, what are the terms of collaboration?

2. India’s will be mankind’s 85th mission to the Moon on record and there  was a vast amount of publicly available knowledge already gained in other countries; did ISRO do a survey of all previous Moon missions by other countries, especially the USSR and USA since 1957 to investigate and analyse the numerous errors and failures they made?  If not, why did it not do so ?  If we did absorb all existing lessons available, and there are people at ISRO wholly conversant with what went wrong with every case of launch-failure, trajectory-failure, instrumentation-failure causing spacecraft to fail to reach or leave Earth orbit, or miss the Moon, or fail to communicate etc, what identifiable improvements did this learning cause in our Mission-planning?  The cause of nationalism is not served if we repeat the known mistakes of others;  why were we made to feel so confident we were not headed to be making the same mistakes as had been already made by others?

3. It is a blow to national prestige and self-confidence if there is failure at any stage of this difficult enterprise and it may have been better to do the job in discrete and successful stages or not do it at all than fail at it most spectacularly; was any thought given to breaking down the present aim into several stages – e.g., improving rocketry to aim at a “parking orbit” around Earth permitting ground control to better calculate trajectories to the Moon, then to flyby the Moon, then to attempt to go into lunar orbit? Why are scientific payloads being planned to be carried even before we have gained any experience in successful rocketry through terrestrial, cislunar, translunar and lunar space?

4. Our country has not been a major manufacturer of engines, aircraft bodies, computers or communications and imaging equipment, all vital to this enterprise; did we import the components to be used and if so, which ones?

5. Science is universal, and belongs to all mankind; all mundane international disputes appear petty when seen from selenocentric space which is the one good reason to want to try to reach it; why not release into the public domain for scrutiny by everyone in the country and the world the equations involved in the rocketry, and even whether Newtonian or Einsteinian frames of reference are being used?

Subroto Roy
October 21 2008

How the Liabilities/Assets Ratio of Indian Banks Changed from 84% in 1970 to 108% in 1998

This graph was created by me in 2002 from Reserve Bank of India data published until 1998. Although I had been “full professor” at the time for six years at something known as an “Institution of National Importance” in India, I had received not a rupee by way of any research-assistance, and had to be assisted in the creation of this graph by two very elderly lay persons, one aged 87 and another aged 77, who read out over many hours  (despite frail eyesight) long columns of RBI data which I then typed into an Excel file. The graph came to be published for the first time to accompany my two-part article “Indian Inflation” published in The Statesman April 15-16 2008,  and available elsewhere here.

The Prime Minister of India has today spoken in India’s Parliament of how sound India’s banking seems to him compared to that in the rest of the world at present.  I  trust he has available to him vast amounts of fresh data since 1998 which  the many members of  his  “Dream Team” of government and other establishment economists  in Delhi and Mumbai have analysed adequately to justify his confidence.  The data in my RBI graph end at 1998 but  they do cover all the years of the PM’s own career as  India’s top economic bureaucrat up through his tenure as Finance Minister in the Narasimha Rao Government.

As it happens, I do think India’s banks are relatively insulated from  the world economy and its present financial crisis but the reason for that insulation has nothing to do with any purportedly better bank governance in India; rather it has to do with the fact the rupee is not a hard convertible currency and therefore there has been a vast and continuing distortion of relative prices (including interest rates and wages) from world prices.

Subroto Roy, October 20 2008

Indira Gandhi in Paris, 1971

This is a photograph of Indira Gandhi emerging with Andre Malraux for a press-conference at the Embassy of India in Paris  in the Autumn of 1971.   (My father, pictured in the centre, had been posted to the Embassy  just a few weeks earlier in anticipation of the visit.  [My father recalls her asking him during or between one of these meetings, “Mr Roy, I am very hungry, can you please get me something to eat?”, and he went and grabbed a small hotel plate full of peanuts which she devoured…])  Indira was making the serious diplomatic effort that she did in world capitals to avert war with West Pakistan over its atrocities in East Pakistan.  War could not be averted and within a few weeks, in December 1971, Bangladesh was born.


“Indira Gandhi’s one and paramount good deed as India’s leader and indeed as a world leader of her time was to have fought a war that was so rare in international law for having been unambiguously just. And she fought it flawlessly. The cause had been thrust upon her by an evil enemy’s behaviour against his own people, an enemy supported by the world’s strongest military power with pretensions to global leadership. Victims of the enemy’s wickedness were scores of millions of utterly defenceless, penniless human beings. Indira Gandhi did everything right. She practised patient but firm diplomacy on the world’s stage to avert war if it was at all possible to do. She chose her military generals well and took their professional judgement seriously as to when to go to war and how to win it. Finally, in victory she was magnanimous to the enemy that had been defeated. Children’s history-books in India should remember her as the stateswoman who freed a fraternal nation from tyranny, at great expense to our own people. As a war-leader, Indira Gandhi displayed extraordinary bravery, courage and good sense.” (From my review article of Inder Malhotra’s Indira Gandhi, first published in The Statesman May 7 2006 and republished elsewhere here under “Revisionist Flattery”.)


“She had indeed fought that rarest of things in international law: the just war. Supported by the world’s strongest military, an evil enemy had made victims of his own people. Indira tried patiently on the international stage to avert war, but also chose her military generals well and took their professional judgement seriously as to when to fight if it was inevitable and how to win. Finally she was magnanimous (to a fault) towards the enemy ~ who was not some stranger to us but our own estranged brother and cousin.  It seemed to be her and independent India’s finest hour. A fevered nation was thus ready to forgive and forget her catastrophic misdeeds until that time….” (From  “Unhealthy Delhi” first published in The Statesman June 11 2007,  republished elsewhere here).

Sarat writes to Manindranath 1931, Sarat visits Surendranath 1927, Death of Sarat 1938 (sraddh invitation to MihirKumar)

Sarat writes to Manindranath 1931

These three little documents give slight glimpses of the relationship between Saratchandra Chattopadhyaya and his friend Manindranath Roy.  In reverse chronological order, the first is a 1931 note from Sarat to Mani on a  domestic matter about the transport of a table (or perhaps a  writing-desk?) by rail; the second is a 1925 diary entry in English by Manindranath that speaks of travel to Shibpur and Sarat coming to breakfast, and then  of going with him to the “Ram Mohan Library” ;  the third is a 1919 letter to Manindranath from Sudhindranath Tagore (son of Rabindranath’s elder brother) which makes reference to the literary journal Bichitra and also asks of news of Sarat.

The 1931 note (translation by KM):

“Mani, I have asked Tulu to bring the table by train. If by this time the man Bipin has already taken it away that makes it more problematic. Unfortunately, this man intervened unasked and created all the trouble. If you can, please retrieve it from Bipin and deliver it at Howrah station. The rest will be done by Tulu.  Dada (Elder Brother) 23 Ashar 1339  P.S . If there is no chance of getting it back for whatever reason please let me know . I will ask carpenter to make another one as soon as possible.”

The 1919 letter (translation by KM):

“My dear,
Have received your letter. How can a great friend like you be forgotten! I can hardly say how happy we are to have met you.  But you know the difference between Hazaribagh and Kolkata. The hazards we face here are as stressful as those in the  brick-and-mortar jungle!  I have so many worries to attend to that I have had no scope  thus far to invite you to my place to enjoy your peaceful company. I do not have the necessary peace of mind yet. I shall obviously contact you as soon as I get a little bit settled. Please, never think otherwise even if I am silent for a while. I shall never forget you.

You are still a member of Bichitra but there has been no meeting for a long time. I have also got no such information. However, if there had been one or two it might have been missed due to postal irregularity. I have informed Bireswar about it.   I  hear you have joined Grace Brothers, is it so? How do you find things there?  I hope all is well at your end. Do you meet Saratbabu these days?    We are so so .  Yours, Sudhindranath Tagore”

Sarat visits Surendranath 1927


Death of Sarat 1938 (sraddh invitation to MihirKumar)

The novelist had been a family friend. He died 15/1/1938; my father, then with the Tatas, invited to his sraddh 26/1/1938