India can gain massively from the space race
The moon completes one revolution around the earth in the same time as it completes one rotation around its axis. This unique characteristic means that we on earth always get to see the same side of the moon. The other, dark, side of the moon, has been understudied and could reveal a number of things about its origin and that of the earth. With Chang’e-4’s landing last week, China became the first country to land a spacecraft on the dark side of the moon. Chang’e-4 is equipped with a lander and a rover. Interestingly, India’s Chandrayan-2 has a similar remit and it will be equipped with an orbiter, a lander and a rover. The two Asian giants seem to be locked in a space race. India has recently decided to send a human into space. If successful, it will only be the fourth country in the world to achieve this feat. It also plans to send an orbiter mission to Venus and a second mission to Mars. China has its own mission to Venus but it plans to put a lander and a rover on Mars before that. Its targets before 2030 include exploration of Jupiter and asteroids as well.
In sheer terms of budget and achievements, China is ahead of India but the latter has not done badly given its myriad other economic challenges. The race, though, has only begun. This race is an opportunity to be taken advantage of. The previous episode of a space race between the US and the Soviet Union during the Cold War helped both the superpowers modernise their industries and accelerate scientific progress. The battle for ideological supremacy may have had other negatives, but it proved a boon for the march of technology.
The winner of the Cold War race — the US — is by no means out of the game. Its private industry, led by Elon Musk’s SpaceX, is churning out new ambitious projects like a trip to the moon for customers who agree to pay. The next big thing is militarisation of space. The US announced a space force last year. Russia has had an aerospace force since 2015 and China’s space programme has always had military aspirations. India opposes weaponisation of space but having an opinion does not count for much unless you have capabilities. New Delhi, one hopes, would have learnt the right lessons after how grievously it erred during the nuclear disarmament debate.