India blasts off into space history to unravel moon mystery
Hearts swelled as Chandrayaan-2 began its journey to the moon but the takeaways from such a mission are more than pride and excitement
India, having corrected a technical glitch in a matter of a week, yesterday launched Chandrayaan-2 to the moon amidst great excitement. While all the action was at Sriharikota, one could feel the adrenalin pumping and almost hear hearts racing at the Nehru Planetarium in Mumbai as it neared takeoff time.
The previous technical snag was corrected in record time and with this mission, ISRO will seek to extend its very successful record. Just this weekend, the world celebrated 50 years of the first man on the moon. At that time, India was roughly into two decades of Independence. We had some obstruction from USA and Russia to develop the technical know-how to take a mission to the moon. Today, that is not so. Through the years, we have gathered the tools and developed most of the technology indigenously.
Collaboration, not race
There is much talk of a space race and though that competitive aspect gives all these reports some zip and edge, I would say now it is more about international space collaboration, rather than a space race. The fact that the Chandrayaan-2 is carrying a payload from the USA gives credence to the collaboration theory. Payload is the set of instruments that are to be used in carrying out experiments after landing on the moon. Now, no single country can take a mission individually. One reason for this is that it is prohibitively expensive. In that aspect, I must add that the ISRO is doing a fantastic job on a tight budget.
There is no life on the moon but of course, all attempts will be made to see if it 'can' be. Countries will make an attempt to colonise the moon and Mars. The moon will become a platform (like a landing station) for further space exploration.
This mission will explore the moon, its soil and the possibility of water on it. The soil itself holds secrets that we must unravel. Laypersons often ask me, what besides the pride and excitement, how does the common man benefit from this? What does he get out of these missions by his country which has spent millions? It is not for nothing that it is called rocket science. One fallout of this is that technology overall improves. For instance, the handheld vacuum cleaner was developed for the Space Mission Apollo 11, the first manned mission to the moon. The space suits that astronauts use are also known to be useful for firefighters.
Then, there are intangible impacts too. Fifty years ago, as a 12-year-old boy, I remember following the landing of Neil Armstrong on the moon. News travelled so much slower then. We read the newspapers the next day, but there were radio bulletins that brought the news a little faster. It lit a fire in me and today, I think the Chandrayaan-2 launch must have lit a similar blaze in youngster's hearts. Looking at this, in this blink-and-you-have-it era of communication, there will be youngsters dreaming of becoming space engineers and scientists. Those dreams may not be outwardly visible and they may not talk about them, but these are the spin-offs of great leaps in science. They can inspire and motivate in silent but very strong ways. The fires that they light in hearts and minds can match the blaze thousands saw on their television sets as India's mission to the moon blasted into space at 2.43 pm local time from Satish Dhawan space centre in Sriharikota, north of Chennai.
As told to Hemal Ashar
Arvind Paranjpye is director, Nehru Planetarium, Mumbai
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