Space blues

Space bluesIndia wants to establish its own space station but are we getting a bit too ambitious with our programmes?

For a country that often seems isolated from the global scientific community, India has had some remarkable scientific successes. The country’s nuclear programme in the past and its ongoing space missions are great examples of that. But the Indian Space Research Organisation’s (ISRO’s) recent announcement that India will establish its own space station should give even its most ardent supporters a reason to pause and ponder. It reminds us of the old adage of counting your chickens before they hatch. While follow-up satellite missions to the Moon and Mars will showcase our country’s abilities in inter-planetary space travel, we are still a few years away from launching Gaganyaan, the first planned manned mission to space, which is expected to take place around the 75th anniversary of India’s independence.

But while India would have proved a point by sending a man into the orbit, it should also apply to become a part of the International Space Station (ISS) and actively participate in its missions. Even if India establishes a small yet permanent base, it will be extremely expensive and much of the scientific work will be repetitive. One must not forget that India is not a wealthy enough country to divert huge amounts of financial resources into some vanity programmes. We are proud and rightly so of our space missions — we have sent some very advanced satellites into space, we do not need to piggyback on other nations for our satellites and even to send a human being into space. Yet, space research is also an area that is common for all humankind and it is important for the world to work together. It is also true that the two original space powers — the United States and Russia — have not encouraged Indian or even Chinese participation in the ISS. This has to change going forward as eventual manned missions to the Mars and further will require global cooperation. Space is the final frontier and while nation-states will continue to work on their own programmes, at the end of the day, it is shared objective of all of mankind to eventually conquer an extra-terrestrial domain. Whether it is to send ourselves further into the universe or discover intelligent life elsewhere, we have to achieve this together. India’s space programme must find ways of collaboration with other space powers and the latter must acknowledge India as an equal. Wasting money doing the same things again will benefit no one.