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Celestial Reach

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A full-fledged space programme in an economically less developed country like India requires a difficult balance between cost and outcomes. It imposes a greater burden on the scientists and engineers to deliver, leaving a very tiny margin for error. That India has come so far as to be sending a Chandrayaan 2 to the Moon indicates how well the designated agency, ISRO, has done along with its affiliates. It goes to the credit of India’s political parties that failure or success has not been used to discredit the space effort. Its necessity for advancement of the nation has been acknowledged by all except the very few who have worked to scuttle the programme at the behest of foreign forces.
It was India’s goal right from Independence to become sufficiently self-reliant in science and technology as befits a nation of its size and importance. It had meant undoing a centuries’ old legacy of the British to cripple India’s mind and prowess. The Indians’ self-esteem was systematically undermined to make them instinctively subservient. As such, the freedom movement was as much about self-respect as it was about territorial sovereignty. The struggle continues to this day, and achieving self-established goals in the many areas of endeavour is part of the process. This might involve some ‘excessive’ chest thumping at times but, considering the sacrifice and struggle involved, it is more than justified. Any failure, it must be remembered, is rubbed in India’s face just as disproportionately by its detractors, who never fail to remind that many of its people are still poor and space programmes are a ‘luxury’.
One of the justifications for the space programme was the benefits it would provide right down to the grassroots through breakthroughs in science and technology. It would revive Indians’ spirit of innovation and inquiry. It has had a considerable impact on the defence sector, mapping and remote sensing technology, weather prediction, etc., but the economy and industry have not taken as much benefit as they should have. It is, obviously, an ongoing process but the need remains for India to commercialise the technological gains. ISRO is by far the cheapest when it comes to launch capability, which it has been making available to other countries, but its technological prowess must become visible in the spin-offs for public benefit. The purpose behind space exploration is not just to compete with others, but also to use the challenges to learn more about the natural world and its secrets. The spirit of scientific enquiry should imbue Indians even in the remotest part of the country and shape a modern temperament for a more prosperous future.