Opinion Op Ed 10 Jul 2016 Room for collaborati ...

Room for collaboration

Published Jul 10, 2016, 2:55 am IST
Updated Jul 10, 2016, 2:55 am IST
Juno is as much about collaboration as it is about exploration.
Three Lego  figurines are  flying aboard the Juno spacecraft.
 Three Lego figurines are flying aboard the Juno spacecraft.

Five years. That is how long it took Juno to reach Jupiter after its launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on August 5, 2011. Five years ago, the team at TeamIndus could be counted on the fingers of one hand, and we were still grappling with the enormity of what we had signed up for. Things have changed during the course of Juno's flight. Now, we are nearly a 100 people working on becoming the first privately funded mission to the moon and only the fourth entity to touch down on the moon after three nations - United States, USSR, and China.  

The news of Juno was thus a reminder as much of our personal journey as it was of how our species moved one step closer to knowing more about this universe that we live in, starting with the biggest planet in our neighbourhood.    


But for us at TeamIndus, Juno and its reaching an orbit around Jupiter, brought home a couple of things that are catalysing space exploration back on earth.  Since the end of the Cold War, exploring space has certainly become more about collaboration than competition. The International Space Station - ISS -- is a fantastic example of what happens when space agencies across continents come together. Nas, Jaxa, Canadian Space Agency, European Space Agency, Roscosmos have together created this lone outpost of humanity beyond the surface of earth.


Juno, on the other hand, is indicative of the power of a different kind of collaboration. It wasn't Nasa that built the spacecraft. It was Lockheed Martin. The private sector has been a force multiplier when it comes to amplifying the efforts of space agencies, and this has been a theme over the last few years. The emergence of SpaceX is expected to free Nasa to more efficiently channelise its resources into missions that move humanity forward, than be caught up in the logistics of replenishing supplies of the International Space Station.  SpaceX and BlueOrigin are among a new crop of enterprises -- dubbed NewSpace companies -- working on slashing the cost of space launches by landing the first stages of rockets back on earth.  


We at TeamIndus are delighted to do our own bit in this environment of co-operation. The Centre National d'études Spatiale or CNES, the French space agency, recently signed an agreement to equip the TeamIndus MoonRover with the CASPEX micro-cameras that they have developed with French firm 3D Plus. These cameras will equip sensors designed to aid the rover's progress by detecting ground obstacles in the path of its wheels.

Our team of former ISRO scientists have been an absolute pillar of strength for us at TeamIndus. The only reason why we have come this far is the knowledge and ecosystem created by ISRO. These are people who had joined the space agency as it was being conceived. They have literally put the Indian space program together with their hands. Every progress in technology has been a result of standing on the shoulders of giants, and we are happy to be working with Isro and its alumni to bring space closer to India.


Those critical of India investing in space have often cynically questioned whether running a space program in a country where millions go hungry was a result of misplaced priorities. Research into space and the technologies that it spawns have been at the heart of several leaps mankind has taken over the years -- whether in computing, material science, communications or medicine. This is true of India, too, which has what is probably one of the most people-focused space programs in the world.

Nurturing a culture of what I call Collaborative Space can make sure that the impact of the investment that goes into space is multiplied -- not to mention that private firms are naturally inclined to be as lean as possible and make space and aerospace technology itself more affordable.  


As children growing up, all of us look up in wonder at the night sky and keep gawking at stars. But when adulthood catches up, many of us stop taking the time out to marvel at the magnificence of what lies beyond. Indeed, in many of our cities, it has become difficult to see through the thick envelope of pollution -- both of the smoke variety and of light. Missions like Juno are reminders to find time to look up, join hands and never stop being curious.