Sci­ence diplo­macy in new or­bit

Vayu Aerospace and Defence - - Commentary -

The suc­cess­ful launch of the South Asian Satel­lite from Sri­harikota on­board the Geosyn­chronous Satel­lite Launch Ve­hi­cle ( GSLV) on 5 May 2017 not only re­it­er­ated the tech­no­log­i­cal prow­ess of In­dia’s space agency, but was also a land­mark in sci­ence diplo­macy in the re­gion. This is the first time a com­mu­ni­ca­tion satel­lite built and launched by In­dia will be put to the com­mon use of South Asian coun­tries. The In­dian space pro­gramme is firmly rooted in the util­i­sa­tion of space tech­nol­ogy for peace­ful pur­poses, and the South Asia Satel­lite sym­bol­ises this phi­los­o­phy.

In fact, in­ter­na­tional co­op­er­a­tion and peace­ful use of space tech­nol­ogy (which de­fine space diplo­macy) are in­grained in the DNA of the In­dian Space Re­search Or­gan­i­sa­tion (ISRO). The In­dian Na­tional Com­mit­tee of Space Re­search, es­tab­lished by Vikram Sarab­hai in 1962, ac­tively pro­moted in­ter­na­tional co­op­er­a­tion even be­fore ISRO was born. Be­tween 1962 and 1969, when ISRO was founded, Sarab­hai po­si­tioned the Thumba Equatorial Rocket Launch­ing Sta­tion (TERLS) as an in­ter­na­tional fa­cil­ity for launch­ing sound­ing rock­ets.

Sci­en­tists from Amer­ica, the Soviet Union, France, the UK and West Ger­many used the fa­cil­ity in Ker­ala to launch ex­per­i­men­tal sound­ing rock­ets. This is the first time a com­mu­ni­ca­tion satel­lite built and launched by In­dia will be put to the com­mon use of South Asian coun­tries. In Fe­bru­ary 1968, Prime Min­is­ter Indira Gandhi for­mally ded­i­cated TERLS to the United Na­tions as an in­ter­na­tional sci­en­tific fa­cil­ity open to all mem­bers of the UN. An in­ter­na­tional ad­vi­sory panel of em­i­nent sci­en­tists guided re­search ac­tiv­i­ties.

Such amal­ga­ma­tion of knowl­edge and ex­per­tise from sci­en­tists of lead­ing space agen­cies of the world helped bud­ding In­dian space sci­en­tists ac­quire knowl­edge and ex­pe­ri­ence. The in­ter­ac­tion also re­sulted in sev­eral fu­ture bi­lat­eral pro­grammes, in­clud­ing the Satel­lite In­struc­tional Tele­vi­sion Ex­per­i­ment (SITE), which pi­o­neered satel­lite tele­vi­sion tech­nol­ogy glob­ally. Another high point in sci­ence diplo­macy came in 1984 when Rakesh Sharma be­came the first In­dian astro­naut to travel to space on­board a Soviet space mod­ule.

The Soviet Union first pro­posed to In­dia in 1980 that it could launch an In­dian astro­naut to the Sa­lyut-7 space sta­tion as part of its space diplo­macy ef­forts with friendly coun­tries. The idea was to ex­pand its sphere of in­flu­ence us­ing its space power. In­dia ac­cepted the of­fer in Au­gust 1981 and joint plans were drawn. Rakesh Sharma joined two other Soviet cos­mo­nauts and was pro­pelled into space on April 3, 1984. The Soviet space diplo­macy, how­ever, fiz­zled af­ter the breakup of USSR, re­sult­ing in the Rus­sians reneg­ing on their prom­ise on the cryo­genic en­gine. Sci­ence and space diplo­macy have ac­quired a new colour in the 21st cen­tury. Like the Sovi­ets in the 1980s, China is of­fer­ing friendly coun­tries a seat on its manned space mis­sions. China opened the doors to for­eign as­tro­nauts 10 years af­ter the Chi­nese first went to space in 2003.

On the other hand, In­dia has of­fered com­mu­ni­ca­tion transpon­ders to friendly neigh­bours. The con­trast in sci­ence diplo­macy of the two Asian ri­vals is clear. The goal of Chi­nese space pro­gramme is to es­tab­lish China as a global space power which is re­flected in its thrust on manned mis­sions, while In­dian space pro­gramme re­mains fo­cused on us­ing space tech­nol­ogy for de­vel­op­ment. These goals of China and In­dia are re­flected in their re­spec­tive sci­ence diplo­macy ini­tia­tives.

Di­nesh C Sharma in Mail To­day

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