AA Edit | Moon is just a start in India’s space odyssey

The Asian Age.

Opinion, Edit

The landing of Vikram from Chandrayaan-3 is just an incremental step making up for a failure four years ago

A screenshot shows Prime Minister Narendra Modi applauding on Chandrayaan-3's successful landing on the Moon’s surface, Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2023. (PTI Photo)

In an exceptional feat of science and technology, India landed its spacecraft Chandrayaan-3 on the dark side of the Moon. A nation agog with excitement over an extended countdown since the July 14 launch was given a gigantic dose of approbation thanks to nearly 1,000 unhonoured and unsung heroes who are scientists of the space organisation Isro whose chief is, coincidentally, Somnath, or Lord of the Moon.

It is in feeding a futuristic scenario of the Moon being mankind’s base for space odysseys that the precise landing on the south polar side of the Earth’s trusted satellite is most fulfilling. The elaborate cost-effective work of years will be distilled into one lunar day, or 14 Earth days, as the rover Pragyan explores the Moon’s surface. It is an engineering feat for the ages and yet it is just a starting point for a nation that has dared to dream.

The landing of Vikram from Chandrayaan-3 is just an incremental step making up for a failure four years ago from which so much was learnt about how to get past conditions and gravity that has seen the Moon eat up spacecraft in the last few years. Several nations, including Russia, in a desperately hurried attempt to land on the south polar side before India, and private enterprises have seen many craft crashland recently on the cratered surface.

Water ice as a possible source of rocket fuel and unfathomable mineral riches of the Moon are there for enhancing man’s quest to further conquer space. As a first mover, India has the advantage even as it admirably supports multilateral efforts in space exploration that can benefit mankind. The annual budgets for space over 60 years are wholly justified as scientific frontiers have been breached even though India may still have millions to lift clear of the poverty line.

The question of spending on scientific research as compared to funding the education of millions to lift them out of poverty was answered long ago by pioneers like Vikram Sarabhai. And Isro spending less than Hollywood producers on their science-fiction fantasies makes for a compelling reason why the developing country needs to sustain this quest for knowledge that has done so much already for discoveries and inventions in telecommunications and remote sensing, just to name two areas from among hundreds.

There is so much more to do too. A joint lunar landing mission by India and Japan is slated for the near future and a manned mission to space is not far off either, even as the Sun beckons India’s Aditya-L1. Chandrayaan-3 will represent an important milestone and a confidence booster even as the rest of the world aims at the south lunar pole for manned missions. It does not sound too fanciful now that the south side of the Moon could transform into a transit point and a gateway to Mars and beyond.

With the latest proof of its capabilities and its prowess as a space power, India has earned its place as an equal in international projects, including a Moon station envisaged, to follow the signing of the Artemis Accord. Besides earning more than Rs 4,000 crores in the international satellite launching business and licensing hundreds of patents in various fields, Isro has attained a stature today that gives it a seat at the high table. The sky’s not the limit anymore for India’s space organisation, an institution of excellence.