Reality Check of Man-In-Space Dream
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s announcement to send Indian man-in-space by 2022 came as surprise Independence Day package as till 2016 government had no plans for it
India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s announcement during his Independence Day speech about his proposal to send an Indian (man or woman) into space in 2022 has caught everyone by surprise. Even the space scientists in India reacted with caution and said that it would be a tough exercise and target, though the scientists said that they would strive hard to the best of their capabilities to achieve the target set by the Prime Minister.
Immediately after this announcement, many critics questioned the Prime Minister’s proposal, pointing out that it is an expensive proposition and fancy project, which would not give the commensurate commercial benefits for the efforts and investments made. Of course, the critics continue with their criticism stating that in India, where 25 percent of the national population lives below poverty level, such “extravaganza” is not warranted and the plan must not be pursued. In the past too, plans and targets for farsighted research and development activity and introduction of newer tools have been questioned.
This announcement was surprise for many including media as till 2016 the government had no plans to fulfill man-in-space dream of many Indians. Replying to a question in Parliament in 2016, Union minister Jitendra Singh said the government had no plans to launch a manned space mission “in the near future”. But, Singh did add that ISRO was working on technologies that would be needed for a manned mission “as part of its research and development” activities.
One Indian, Rakesh Sharma, has been to space. But, Sharma did so as a cosmonaut on a Russian spacecraft. While India has sent rovers to the Moon and planet Mars, an Indian manned mission to space is not among the laurels the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) has earned over the years.
Can the space agency really accomplish what PM Modi has promised? ISRO chief K Sivan has expressed confidence that the agency will be able to meet the deadline. The agency has already developed most of the technology required for such a mission, Sivan said.
Just a month ago, the space agency successfully tested a crew escape system, a critical technology necessary for human spaceflight. “The Crew Escape System is an emergency escape measure designed to quickly pull the crew module along with the astronauts to a safe distance from the launch vehicle in the event of a launch abort,” ISRO had said after the successful test.
In the year 1998 when nuclear explosion was carried out in India, this action was severely criticized not only by section of people in India but also abroad, terming it as throwing away public money for ego satisfaction. Even the move to introduce computerization was questioned in 1990s, stating that most section of Indians cannot afford to buy computer or have expertise to use computer. Some political parties even organized demonstration and street protests, stating that computerization would lead to loss of employment and domination by multinational companies in India.
Even today, space programs, digitization initiative of the government, Neutrino research project, and proposal to introduce bullet trains are all being criticized as “white elephant projects” that India can do without.
It used to be said that “any man would become what he wants to become”. The tall targets are essential for achieving rapid growth and big leap forward. Viewing projects such as sending Indian to space by 2022 in a negative way is not appropriate.
What India need today is rapid advancement in science and technology, which should be accompanied by efforts to motivate the people to strive for difficult targets and achieve global leadership? Spread of such mindset amongst cross section of people would inevitably lead to significant changes in the technology, industrial and economic climate in India, which is precondition for rapid progress of the country.
The mission to send Indian to space call for extremely complicated design standards, development of construction materials that would stand stringent conditions etc., which would be technology and engineering challenges for the space
scientists, engineers and others involved. Such mission would require the use of multiple fields of technology and large team of experts have to be involved.
Obviously, when such efforts are made in the pursuit of the target, the country men would acquire enormous skill and expertise that will significantly strengthen the scientific base of the country.
Strengthening of the scientific and technology base require that the scientists and engineers have to be provided opportunities to work on new and untested areas in tune with the practices in the advanced countries that would enthuse and motivate the scientific professionals to strive hard to overcome the challenges.
In the last few decades, India has been the recipients of technologies from abroad for setting up projects and India has been seeking technologies even from geographically small countries like Taiwan, Israel, South Korea and others. This trend has to be reversed.
The scientific pursuits in various fields should not be viewed as isolated activities or in a short sighted way. Any scientific advancement in any field would inevitably contribute to the introduction of improved technologies, appropriate to the national requirement in various fields.
Scientific pursuits should not be viewed as a matter of immediate cost benefit proposition and the deeper implications of such pursuits that would lead to overall strengthening of the scientific base of the country must be appreciated and seen as an extremely important, relevant and much needed strategy.
Prime Minister Modi’s proposals for various sophisticated projects such as bullet train, sending Indian to space are all part of the schemes and strategies to put the scientific base in India on strong foundation.
Union Minister for Science and Technology Jitendra Singh with ISRO Chairman Dr. K. Sivan
Former PM Indira Gandhi’s with India’s First Astronaut Rakesh Sharma