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

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