Tuesday, February 22, 2005

2008: An Indian Space Odyssey

He is a sacrificial fire
in which the gods are constantly putting fuel
when darkness spreads its vast sheet
even then
he is the untiring life flaming in the background
Dyaus, o ancient father
it is you who has made these wonderful seasons
you the wrinkles on the face
the blood of the shoots
the drying up of wounds
you are love
like a beehive full of honey
warm and sweet
present in our souls
you are
the agitation that turns the earth upside down.
- Hymn to Dyaus Pitr (Sky Father), Rig veda.

Less than 3 years to go! In late 2007 or early 2008, India's first unmanned mission to the moon "Chandrayan 1" (moon-voyage 1) will blast off on top of a four stage Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) for a 2 year orbit of the moon, carrying out a 3D mapping of the moon as well as the most detailed analysis of the moons mineral and chemical composition ever conducted.Apart from a lunar impacter that will permanently place India's flag on the moon's surface, the mission will carry out scientific experiments on behalf of the US, ESA and Bulgaria.

Naturally as is always the case in India, there are those who have questioned the scientific value of the mission and pointed instead to its use for Indian nationalism and prestige. Well duh! Of course it will be a matter of enormous pride for Indians to witnesses India's entry into the elite club of the few space faring nations. But to say that India is a wasting money on extravagant space adventures that could be better spent back home on the welfare of its citizens is plainly misguided and ignorant. You will never see these same bleeding hearts utter a peep about costs of outdated economic ideologies that they continue to champion that has made and kept India poor for the last 50 years or the massive subsidies handed out year after year to perpetually loss making public enterprises or the failure to push through so many vitally needed reforms that would save India far more money than that spent on a nascent space exploration program.

Rather this unmanned mission to the moon is just a small stepping stone to far more ambitious and cost effective space missions where India has the ability and opportunity to leapfrog other nations into the space age. Already ISRO is planning a second mission to the moon, Chandrayaan-2, in 2011-12; a mission to an asteroid; an unmanned mission to Mars in 2013, a human spaceflight in 2015 and a possible manned moon mission sometime after 2020.

Then there are also substantial technological benefits that will result from the mission and have practical applications such as in ISRO's development of next generation Geosynchronous Launch Vehicle (GSLV-Mark 3) which will be powerful enough to launch the India's biggest satellites. A Launch of the GSLV-Mark3 will only cost about half the rate charged by France, US, and Russia.

Additionally the mission will further boost India's strength in remote sensing satellite imagery, which is the among the most advanced in the world. This currently produces enormous benefit not only for military but also in the country's development by helping farmers, fishermen and connecting remote rural areas through its satellite technology. It is estimated that the ISRO's projects have added between two or three times the organisations budget to the nations GDP.

Jai Hind!


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