New Delhi: India’s leap to the Moon, our next door neighbour, is in many ways far more significant than it appears to a common citizen. The mission is much more than just India’s pride on becoming the first country in the world to land near the South Pole of the Moon and the fourth one to land on the Moon because the “mad race to be the first” has not been our aim. Dr Vikram A. Sarabhai, the founding father of our country’s space program and a great visionary, who, soon after Independence had initiated work on space research putting in his own money and resources, had emphatically stated, “We must be second to none in the application of advanced technologies to the real problems of man and society.”
Indians have been celebrating the success with joy and pride, though there are some who argue against spending money on missions like Chandrayaan, Mangalyaan and Gaganyaan by a country like ours. Countries around the globe too have been watching the development closely and quietly with appreciation—most countries with hope, while some with apprehension. Hope of getting access to otherwise extremely expensive space assets at much lower costs by collaborating with a country known for believing in “Vasudhaiv Kutumbakam” and for its repeated successes in achieving result oriented space missions at comparatively low and affordable costs. Those viewing our space program as a threat to their dominance are once again likely to be apprehensive. It is no secret that the real reason behind attempts to block India’s space program by installing technology denial regimes and trade sanctions was this very apprehension and fear of losing their dominance over a $350bn-plus market (likely to cross $1 trillion by 2040).
Costing the national exchequer not even Rs 1,000 crore, which is less than the cost of the production of many Hollywood movies, Chandrayaan-2 essentially involves taking a whole set of instruments and sensors on board—the Moon orbiter weighing about 2,379 kg, the 1,471 kg Moon lander Vikram and the 27 kg rover Pragyan—to the Moon and collecting a wide range of information aimed at taking humankind’s understanding about the Moon to the next level. This will include the understanding of a variety of resources available on Moon including water and dynamics of harnessing such material and energy resources; of modalities of setting up bases on the Moon; of the science behind the creation and evolution of the Moon and possibly the Earth too; of a number of technologies that will assist in our deep-space missions in the near future, and much more.
The assessment of quantity and distribution of lunar water and of ways of utilising it is perhaps going to be the single most important achievement of this mission, after the quantum jump in the scientific knowledge about the Moon. In addition to being the most important resource for life support and for many industrial processes that may be soon taken up in outer space, water has the potential to be used as clean, safe, cost effective and efficient fuel for electric propulsion in future space missions, e.g. Microwave Plasma Thrusters (MPT).
Another big contribution of this mission is in terms of motivation and inspiration for our citizens, especially the youth and in inspiring the future generation of scientists, explorers, entrepreneurs and investors. It is perhaps the result of such inspiration from earlier space missions that young scientists are doubling up as entrepreneurs and setting up start-ups while investments have begun to come in from unconventional sources, as in the recent case of a young, renowned film star investing significant money in a start-up formed by a group of young scientists cum entrepreneurs for developing indigenous microwave plasma thrusters.
Yet another important takeaway from Chandrayaan-2 is the avoidance of repetition of the past painful history of having to suffer as “have-nots” and being kept away from the tables where rules for territorial rights on new found frontiers and utilisation of their resources were being framed by the “haves”. Denying India membership to the Nuclear Suppliers Group and the UN Security Council are two such glaring examples. Tomorrow when the “haves” sit down to frame rules for using resources available on Moon and in outer space, India will be there among the “haves” to make its views matter and ensure that its interests and rights as well as that of its friends are not made to suffer.
Not many people realise the strategic value of outer space for the economy as well as for national security. Chandrayaan-2, along with other space programs and the recent demonstration of ASAT by the DRDO under Mission Shakti are complementary in nature and are essential for peace, progress and prosperity. The first one creates space assets, while the other one secures our assets through credible deterrence.
Chandrayaan-2 is truly a symbol of noble national ambitions and aspirations with a global perspective and vision for expanding human knowledge for universal progress and prosperity.
Ravi Kumar Gupta is a former Scientist G & Director Public Interface, DRDO, Ministry of Defence