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Actor R Madhavan has courted controversy by saying the panchangam, the almanac used in Indian astrology based on ancient techniques, was key to the success of India’s Mars mission since it made up for the lack of state-of-the-art technology in the satellite launch vehicle. Madhavan hinted that the panchangam has advanced features such predicting solar flares and so on.

R Madhavan has been trolled on social media and faced criticism from scientists including from Myilsamy Annadurai, a space scientist who played key roles in India’s Mars and Moon missions. Annadurai has been quoted as saying that using panchangam would not have helped the Mars mission.

A senior scientist at a government agency who did not wish to be quoted said that the Indian Space Research Agency (ISRO) had planned the launch of Mars Mission on October 28, 2013 but was postponed to November 5 following the delay in ISRO’s spacecraft-tracking ships taking up pre-determined positions due to poor weather in the Pacific Ocean. The change in the dates shows that the schedule of Mangalyaan including its launch was not based on panchangam predictions.

The postponement of the launch dates shows that the schedule of Mangalyaan including its launch was not based on panchangam predictions

He also said that while the spacecraft was on its way to Mars, many times the trajectory had to be corrected so that the satellite reached Mars orbit. This clearly showed that advance predictions potentially coming from panchangam did not quite help.

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The scientist said that the almanac is the name given to the old European calendar and the Indian panchangam has loosely termed as the almanac in India. Panchangam has five elements: Star (nakshatram), thithi, vaaram, karnam and yogam. Karnam and yogam have little link to astronomy and is a number to do with astrology.

Nakshatram is the one that says which star will be near the moon on a particular day. In 27.3 days, the moon will come full circle in the sky, and each day a different star will be near the moon.

These are not accurate predictions either. Thithi is the moon phase which will keep changing. In an hour, every 30 seconds, the pirai (phase) keeps changing. This is also a rough estimate. Vaaram is the week.

In Mars mission, it would have been necessary to predict where Mars will be when the rocket will reach it. So this requires extremely careful, intricate calculations using today’s mathematics, he said. Some three times these calculations were done. So to say the panchangam was used will be doing a disservice to scientists who helmed the mission and ensured its success, he added.

R Madhavan was speaking at an event related to his film Rocketry that apparently deals with the case of S Nambi Narayanan, a space scientist who was embroiled in a sex scandal and was alleged to have been honeytrapped. Courts found him innocent of these charges. Nambi Narayanan was developing the cryogenic engine for India’s space mission that is considered to be the cutting edge in space science technology. Nambi Narayanan’s arrest was a serious setback to the development of the cryogenic engine and the scandal was likely orchestrated by western intelligence agencies looking to obstruct the development of Indian expertise in the cryogenic engine technology as per credible commentators and Narayanan himself. Madhavan said that India did not have cryogenic engine technology, yet managed to successfully launch a Mars satellite at a fraction of the cost in-part due to the help from the panchangam

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