Next giant leap
The strides that the Indian Space Research Organisation has been making in recent times are fuelled by the aim to reach the zenith – something which may always elude us so that we may never tire to achieve excellence. And, of course, in our pursuit of this excellence, we may produce quality by-products which would not only reap huge dividends for humanity but cement our name as a prominent space player. Achievements of ISRO, small or big, have put together a reputation on the global channel. Though the connoisseurs – NASA and Roscosmos – followed by the enthusiasts – ESA, Japan and China – have made similar strides and are much ahead but India's growth story has this glaring accreditation of indigenous technology which raises our head high. And, with excellence in frontline research, ISRO has step by step, yielded fruitful results. Chandrayaan-1 marked India's reach to the moon and was credited with the discovery of water on the lunar surface back in 2008. Now, on July 15, following the footsteps of its predecessor, Chandrayaan-2 will be launched the primary objective of demonstrating the ability to soft-land on the lunar surface and operating a robotic rover on the surface. Chandrayaan-2 appears to be a continuation of the bridge Chandrayaan-1 started followed by Mangalyaan. Both these missions were significant leaps for India in space. Mangalyaan happened to be the first successful Mars mission from Asia and the most cost-effective mission to Mars – $71–74 million. In effect, Mangalyaan was similar to Chandrayaan-1 with upgrades necessary to cover the distance till Mars. Mangalyaan received enough applaud for its success and the hard work put in by the team of scientists who did not give in to the pressure of logistical and operational challenges that they came across in making this mission one of the major steps for India in the space sector. Chandrayaan-1 and Mangalyaan have set a dangerously high precedent, one which is for our own good and benefit. With the plan ISRO has for future, such precedents were necessary to ensure our requisite capacity benchmark in undertaking interplanetary missions of this scale. ISRO unveiled its intent to build a permanent station in space in the next five to seven years. The ambitious plan only validates the kind of leaps India has been taking corroborated by the exploratory missions to the Moon and Mars. The trajectory comprises the upcoming Lander and Rover mission to Moon and the declared human space flight before 2022 aka Gaganyaan, and a possible, currently undeclared, human mission to the Moon sometime later. If ISRO manages to scale its trajectory, etching all these missions as milestones, an indigenous space station is not impossible. While other space agencies undertake space exploration missions and script history, India is making gracious strides of progress which, on the time-scale, remains laudable. If in seven years, we achieve what ISRO aims, then a collaborative effort thereon would be bound to reap unprecedented dividends for humanity. Till now, the US and the Soviet Union (now Russia) have produced moments of unprecedented pride and space success for the world to celebrate. And, while they strive to continue doing that, the supportive efforts of other space agencies including India will increase humanity's capability which, ideally, should benefit all of mankind in the sustainable world we dream to achieve.
Coming back to what Chandrayaan-2 holds for India, a soft-landing on the south pole of the moon, a territory unexplored by any spacecraft, is considered the most challenging part of the mission. This is perhaps an eagerly waited mission not just by ISRO but the global scientific community in a bid to discover more water or minerals there. The area may also have ancient rocks and craters that can offer insight into the history of the Moon, while the fossil records can provide data on the early solar system. Chandrayaan-2 with has three modules viz. Orbiter, Lander (Vikram) and Rover (Pragyan). ISRO has named the Lander module Vikram, after Vikram Sarabhai, and the Rover module Pragyaan, meaning wisdom. With Chandrayaan-2, ISRO will shift its research and excellence eye towards Gaganyaan in order to send humans to space. That, of course, will be a bigger leap than sending robots to space but as mentioned earlier, such bigger leaps will help us realise the dream of a space station and whatever lies beyond which may currently be incomprehensible but not impossible. What needs to be done in the supply line of this dream is to construct a human resource pool having expertise in space and research out of the huge demographic dividend India can boast of. One eye at Japan may tell us in the most dramatic way how the roadmap to success, given resources and research, is to tap the tremendous potential of human resource which would help us take the next giant leap of mankind.