Last night (Tuesday Oct 21, 9.52pm US Eastern time) I watched with awe when the giant PSLV rocket blasted off from the Satish Dhawan Space center in Shriharikota, India, carrying with it India’s pride – the Chadrayaan-1 unmanned lunar mission. Largely ignored by the US media, the Chandrayaan-1 mission may not be of much interest to the US population but it is a giant step for India to prove to the world that India can do whatever it puts its mind to. With the success of this mission, India will join the select group of countries who have made lunar missions. Many are asking for the economic justification of such an expensive adventure. When the majority of Indians are lacking the basic necessities of life, scientific extravaganza like a “Lunar mission” is seen as nothing but sheer luxury. The nuclear exercise at least had some tangible benefits in the defense and energy sector. What benefits are we expecting by sending a box full of instruments to the moon? Are we sending a space craft to the moon only because “it is there”? Or is it because we want to stake a claim on a new frontier by planting the tri-color just as we did in Antartica?
Although, both of the above objectives are true to some extent, I think the motivations are deeper than that. Expeditions like this add value in many dimensions. First of all it improves the scientific and technological credibility of the country in the global community and firmly establishes India as a major technological power. Secondly, India’s moon missions and the advanced rocket launch capability can prove to be a profitable venture as they offer this service to other countries to carry their space and/or lunar payloads at a competitive price. Chandrayaan-1 is already carrying multiple foreign instruments including two from USA. A third benefit that may come out of this is the development of ancillary industries to support the space missions. For example, in USA, most of the NASA development work is done by third party contractors. The demands of space technology can foster the development of many products that can be beneficial to the common people. When a large scientific project like this gets in motion, the scientific community gets energized and the offshoot technologies, that may or may not be directly related to the space missions, can themselves prove to be extremely beneficial. And of course we cannot completely ignore the knowledge gained from the experiments conducted on the lunar surface.
During the summer of 1981, I had the good fortune of working with the Indian Space Research Organization’s (ISRO) Ahmedabad outfit as a summer trainee from IIT Kharagpur. Although it was only a two month association, but I think I can still claim some kinship with this organization and feel proud that I too had once contributed to what has culminated today to a full fledged moon mission – the Chandrayaan.
Way to go ISRO, way to go India!
For more details on the mission visit the Chandrayaan website.