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Friday, Oct 18, 2019

One step closer to a future in space | Opinion

As nations look for alternatives to earth, we must praise Isro’s efforts in expanding India’s horizons

columns Updated: Sep 09, 2019 20:41 IST
Shashi Shekhar
Shashi Shekhar
Isro’s far-sighted approach ensures that India’s future necessities are being met
Isro’s far-sighted approach ensures that India’s future necessities are being met(AP)

First, many congratulations are due to the scientists of Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro). Their first attempt resulted in the lander reaching the moon’s surface, but have lost contact with it. Despite this, they have proved that the organisation, which once had to carry its equipment to its headquarters in Thumba, Kerala, on a bullock cart, has now evolved into a huge establishment. The journey of science draws inspiration and energy, not from successes but from failures. After all, Thomas Alva Edison faced failure many times in his efforts to light a bulb.

The greatest test of any country and its countrymen comes when young dreams die. The way the audio and visual media created a sensation around the Chandrayaan-2 landing sent hopes skyrocketing. And the entire country graciously accepted the news that communications with the lander, Vikram, had snapped. The manner in which Prime Minister Narendra Modi appreciated and encouraged the scientists must be lauded. The people who heard his words on the morning when scientists faced this setback will remember them for a long time.

For people of my generation who grew up listening to the rhyme ‘Chanda mama door ke, puye pakayen gur ke...’, such a scientific narrative means the end of poetic romanticism. I was jus nine when Neil Armstrong took the first steps on the surface of the moon. The world was different then. There was no social media, and television in India was limited to just Delhi. Even at that time, I saw my elders glued to the radio. People were so curious and excited, wondering if the first person stepping on the moon is reaching a place more beautiful than even heaven. For millennia, we have equated the moon with beauty and we wondered if the actual moon would prove this true.

But the reality was different; the moon’s surface was filled with deep craters proving that all the literary imaginings about the moon were mere fantasy.

Science follows thought, and thoughts always require the support of imagination. Apollo 11 forced poets of the world to think in an entirely different manner. During those days, some people recalled the American general Homer Boushey’s comment that one “who controls the Moon, controls the Earth”. But it takes time to understand such comments.

Today, the moon seems to be emerging as a protector of humanity. There is evidence of water there. Needless to say, the crisis of drinking water is deepening on the earth due to the burden of a rising population, and hence, we feel the need for alternative planets. Besides the moon, Mars is also the focus of attention of scientists because there appears to be enough water to sustain life there as well.

Here it would be appropriate to mention one of our own scientists. Syed Zahoor Qasim, who belonged to Allahabad (now, Prayagraj). He led India’s first expedition to Antarctica. As a young reporter, I had covered his felicitation ceremony held in Prayag Sangeet Samiti. In his speech, he said that in the coming days, Antarctica will provide us with water as well as an alternative place to inhabit. At that time, we, who have been born in the vicinity of rivers like Ganga and Yamuna, could not even imagine the current water crisis. But Qasim’s statement made us understand that if science doesn’t have a far-sighted approach, humanity will be beset with one crisis after another.

India’s expedition to the moon should also be seen in the same perspective. When US President Donald Trump says that China and India should be considered developed countries, then despite economic contradictions, we should have a far-sighted approach. The European Space Agency is talking about settling an international village on the moon by 2030. The Russian space agency, Roscosmos, also announced that it will start building a colony on the moon by 2025 which will be completed by 2040. In such a situation, the world’s largest democracy cannot take a back-seat.

Soon, Indians are going to leave China behind as far as population is concerned. Therefore, we will have to focus on alternatives to the earth. Here, I would like to draw your attention to a historical tragedy. Had the Mughal emperors focused on forming a navy instead of spending on a lavish and luxurious life, we wouldn’t have become slave to European colonialists. The kings and queens of Europe were doing it. Queen Mary gifted the world’s most powerful navy to England, later Czarina Catherine recognised the power of the sea. She used to say that we (Russia) needed a window to the world. The window was the ocean. And, for this, she even divided Poland. Columbus, who discovered America, was funded by Queen Isabella of Spain.

The future belongs to space. Therefore, Isro should be congratulated because it is making plans keeping in mind future necessities and requirements.

Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan
The views expressed are personal

First Published: Sep 09, 2019 20:41 IST

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