At the time of Independence, a huge chunk of people questioned the stress that was being laid on laying down the foundations of what was to become an arena of Indian pride – Space technology. Fortunately then, India had a visionary Prime Minister – Jawaharlal Nehru, under whose auspices we developed the first generation of Indian scientists. Nehru was way ahead of his time, as inspite of widespread criticism he went ahead with his plan of investing in science and technology. He truly wanted to inculcate scientific temper in hitherto ignorant common masses. To achieve these lofty aims as well as make the world believe that inspite of poverty, India was capable of developing scientifically.Hence, he got the companionship of able men like Dr. Homi J. Bhabha (regarded as the father of Indian Nuclear Technology), Dr. Vikram Sarabhai and Dr. E.V. Chitnis among many others. The leadership and expertise of these people combined with the strong political backing of Nehru, to pave the way for exploration in the field of space. It was in the year 1962 that INCOSPAR – Indian National Committee for Space Research, which later evolved into ISRO (1969), was formed.
Like it is with all beginnings, it was a modest start for India. The aim was to harness space technology for national development while pursuing space science research and planetary exploration. Subsequently in 1973, the first rocket launch system was established at Thumba in Thiruvanthapuram, and the first rockets-namely ROHINI and APACHE (US) were launched (both sounding rockets) from there. After ISRO’s establishment at Bengaluru in 1969, more advanced work began as the focus was on developing satellites and launch vehicles. India’s first satellite-Aryabhatta named after the great Indian Mathematician Aryabhatta, was also launched shortly. The major challenges that were faced during this time included, a poor economy that made the cost of failure very grave. Had the earlier experiments failed, the public criticism would have made any further development impossible. Hence, the biggest task remained to fulfil the enormous expectations of millions and millions of Indians. Besides, due to the political stance of India to remain non-aligned with either of the two superpowers, that is the US and Russia, also made the task difficult since there was virtually no one to fall back onto. Though relations with Russia were relatively friendly, they were also not willing to share high technology. Thus the most urgent task for the Indian scientists was to engage in research and quickly develop the required technology.
Did India succeed?
Today, in the 21st century, India clearly stands as a world leader in space technology. To prove this point certain facts will suffice: Recently, India completed the successful launch of the PSLV-C38 mission carrying a payload from 14 other countries including UK, USA, etc. The rocket included 31 satellites including Cartosat-2, which is a remote sensing satellite that will be useful in the management of natural resources. Moreover, Cartosat will also boost India’s defence and security as it contains the lens of 0.6 resolution capable of spotting even the smallest of particles on the surface of earth. This will give a great impetus to intelligence and surveillance agencies. The two workhorses of ISRO that is PSLV (Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle) and GSLV (Geosynchronous Launch Vehicle) are capable of placing satellites in all kinds of orbits. Earlier this year, India also sent a massive carrier containing 104 satellites which held the distinction of being the largest number sent in one launch vehicle. Most recently, GSAT -17, a communication satellite with 40 transponders was sent from a European launch site. Then, in 2008, India sent its famous Chandrayaan 1 to Moon which became a great success story. Of late the success of the Mars Orbiter Mission (Mangalyaan) (MOM) has been a jewel in the crown of ISRO. The most significant thing about all these missions has been that the ISRO has successfully completed them at a relatively lower cost than NASA. Despite various hindrances such as the lack of a cryogenic engine, India has not lagged behind.
Challenges and the way ahead
As listed above, the biggest strength of ISRO has been in developing indigenous technology at a price much lower than that of the developed nations. The fact that today the ISRO has its own commercial wing by the name of ANTRIX which deals with trade and leasing of technology and logistics is testimony to the great strides we have taken. However at the same time, this also points towards the challenges that the ISRO faces: Firstly, we must not lose sight of the fact that space technology is the future and only it can meet the needs of future societies. Hence, there is a dire need to continuously keep abreast with the latest technology and keep innovating. Creative solutions to the complex problems of modern societies could only be sought if the technology involved is up to date and safe. The recent cyber-attacks such as Wannacry ransomware or PETYA ransomware attacks present a grave threat to the security of data. Secondly, when it comes to the matter of high technology, India is still very much dependent on developed countries like the US or Russia. For instance in the case of Cryogenic engine, India is heavily dependent on Russia and hence its substitute must be sought. Lastly, there is a grave need for expansion as in order to meet the needs of a rapidly growing population, the ISRO needs to double the number of communication satellites in the outer space.
To conclude, it would be apt to say that, while the efforts of the past have yielded results, it is imperative that greater efforts are put today since the challenges of the future are much more tough.
-Contributed by Suryansh
Picture Credits: scrolli.in