It may be a tad hasty to claim that Indian space scientists will make history with their second probe to the Moon, Chandrayaan-2, just as they did a decade ago with Chandrayaan-1’s discovery of water in the exosphere, surface and subsurface of the Earth’s nearest astral neighbour. It will take more than rocket science to accomplish a delicate touchdown on lunar soil as “Vikram”, the lander named after the doyen of Indian space programme, Dr Vikram Sarabhai will, and the rover “Pragyan” which will amble about for one lunar day (that’s equivalent to 14 days on the Earth), scouting for new chemicals, minerals and water. Without doubt, it will be “15 terrifying minutes” as Isro (Indian Space research Organisation) chairman Dr K. Sivan admitted about the flight of the lander-rover from Chandrayaan-2 to the lunar surface, because the speed will be controlled merely through signals, at the highest level of precision, with even a second’s delay spelling doom.
A perfect touchdown, however, will catapult India into a super-exclusive club of the United States, Russia and China, and open avenues for participation in international programmes to turn the Moon into a stop-over station for future missions to Mars or other planets, as well as for installing telescopes on the lunar soil to peer deep into the universe. Many experts feel that a lunar space station will be an ideal alternative to the International Space Station (ISS) which is nearing the end of its operational life. In case such a space station takes shape, Isro will be able to partner other space agencies with expertise gained during this vital second expedition to the Moon.
Questions are often raised about the cost-benefit aspect of such scientific missions and gains to the common man, but Indian space scientists have accomplished much with modest budgets, and passed on cutting edge technologies to India Inc, thus creating more job opportunities. Besides international acclaim, Chandrayaan-2’s (budget: `978 crores) success will also engender commercial opportunities in the form of more orders from countries for manufacture and launch of satellites of various classes.
It will also open up opportunities for Indian industry to compete for global projects or partner big-ticket companies in manufacture of advanced materials and machinery. The upshot: A boost to the country’s economy.
There are other benefits as well from space technology which have reached sectors as varied as education, health, or fisheries and homeland security. For obvious reasons, none in Isro will talk of the transformation of the defence sector or how the armed forces are better equipped because they now have at their disposal tools of communication which were originally designed for the space programme. So a mission like Chandrayaan-2 will not only serve erudite scientists but also the common man....