(Indian) Man on the Moon

The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) recently held a meeting of major Indian scientists in Bangalore to discuss the feasibility and economics of sending an Indian astronaut into space and then later landing him/her on the moon. This has given rise to the usual arguments both in favor of and against such a venture. There are those who argue that India, with her many social and economic problems, should not waste money on something that has already been done before and will yield nothing new. That instead, the money should be used to help the poor and the downtrodden. Simply put, India should not dare to dream that big and be constantly aware of her limits.

I firmly disagree. I think India should seriously plan on putting a man into space and then later on the moon. Yes, it will be expensive. However, what no one realizes is how much of a kick start it will give to the science and technology fields in India and ultimately benefit society. The space race between the erstwhile U.S.S.R. and the U.S. in the 1950s and 60s led to the development of many new technologies that later found widespread applications in many different areas, ranging from health to housing.

Poverty or social ills are important problems and need to be tackled but they need to be dealt within their own space. One cannot link space exploration to how India has so far failed to help many of its poor. There were many who were skeptical or opposed even India’s initial modest attempts at developing satellite launch capabilities. ISRO is having the last laugh now. India has one of the most cost effective launch systems in the world. The satellites put into space by ISRO have helped greatly in early cyclone warning, broader reach of education and world class remote sensing to mention a few. The early cyclone warning process enabled by ISRO’s satellites alone has saved thousands of lives by letting authorities evacuate people before a cyclone hit.

In addition, space exploration is not just about boosting a nation’s self esteem. It is the exploration of the final frontier. Humanity needs to look beyond Earth. We need to get off this planet sometime. There are not enough resources on Earth to feed, clothe and satisfy the world’s population forever. Space exploration is a very costly and cumbersome undertaking but all new technologies are expensive. The first computers were huge monsters and cost small fortunes. In the same way, the initial decades of space exploration will demand huge spending but there will definitely be tangible results. If not for our generation then for the next.

Sometimes it pays to have a broader vision. To think and dream big. As long as we keep drawing lines and limiting ourselves we can never truly achieve anything big. For more than one billion Indians space exploration should not just be a distant dream but a tangible reality.

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