Excellence in planning and execution in space matters has been one of India’s brightest spots. The Indian Space Research Organisation has won laurels and earned cash with its expertise in launching satellites for many countries. While satellite launches are now routine business, where Isro has really been facing challenges is in its big-ticket missions.
The prospect of an Indian astronaut taking off for space from Indian soil propelled by an Indian rocket and returning safely to earth in an Indian spaceship would have been laughable just decades ago. It’s not that far back, from the 1960s, when an early rocket was taken to Thumba on the back of a bicycle!
If we can forget for a minute that 2019 saw two glitches in a lost satellite and Chandrayaan-2 lander Vikram braking too hard in its descent to the moon, what we have is a saga of memorable achievements in space, some like the Mangalyaan rover, done in an admirably economical manner.
The new decade will unveil some of the nation’s most ambitious missions — Aditya (Sun mission), Chandrayaan-3 and a humanoid mission test before Gaganyaan with an astronaut on board — and the accountability factor goes up manifold. Also, many moon landing missions failed earlier before achieving success, which makes us marvel at the Americans who sent Neil Armstrong to the moon 50 years ago. Only 100 per cent accuracy in a lunar landing will help wipe Isro chief K. Sivan’s 2019 tears.
Given the sentiments that get played up and faith that drives Isro chiefs to seek divine blessings before missions, treating failure with equanimity is much harder. The space programme’s most admirable attribute is that we have managed elite science and technology without letting politics ruin it, much as it has with many other aspects of Indian life.