By Om Prakash Dwivedi
From the old, hackneyed phase of India’s ‘tryst with destiny’, we have turned into a robust nation that thrives on our beliefs. In terms of space technology, not only we have become a nation that churns out its own destiny, but we are also helping others to reach theirs.
The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO)’s sterling success is a testament to what beliefs can do. The underlying spirit of the new India has been its relentless confidence in its belief. This belief is co-terminus with the new style of leadership that India enjoys under PM Narendra Modi.
From being a country of farmers, India has made an incredible journey to space, becoming part of the global elite. It was not long ago that the international media often derided, even questioned our scientific skills. Many of us may recall the teasing cartoon published in The New York Times (2014) on the Mangalyaan launch into the space. The newspaper featured a farmer with his cow knocking at the ‘Elite Space Club’ while two white men cast an amused look.
If belief had a face, ISRO is an embodiment of that, rendered and nourished by the Indian government’s assessments and prescriptions. As ISRO scientist, Arvind Trivedi rightly points out, ‘One must also not forget the tenacity and sacrifices of several unknown faces in this remarkable transformation of ISRO, its former Directors, including the former K. Sivan, the present one, S Somanath, and, of course, the charismatic A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, who spent 10 years there.’
The landing of $77 million Chandrayaan-3 on the moon has galvanised India’s position in space power. In Sanskrit, Chandrayaan-3 means “moon craft”. On 14th July 2023, it took off from Sriharikota, an island in southern India, with an orbiter, a lander named Vikram, which means ‘valour’, and a rover named ‘Pragyan’, the Sanskrit word for wisdom. The total cost of the ‘Chandrayan 3’ mission is estimated at around $74.6m – much lesser than other space superpowers nations, another eulogising aspect of India’s rise as a space power.
With this landing, India becomes the first country to land on the moon’s south pole and only the fourth country – after the United States, the Soviet Union, and China – to mark the triumph of landing on the moon. This intrepid space journey is remarkable in many ways, for it reflects the power of our indigenous knowledge system in the field of space agency both as a superpower and an industry. Interestingly, this landing coincides with the crash of Russia’s Luna-25. Having started its space journey with Aryabhata in 1975, using a Soviet rocket from a foreign launchpad, that sums up how far we have come.
India’s rise as a space superpower has strong scaffolding, rooted as it is in its ancient wisdom while also demonstrating excellence in the use of modern technology. No wonder, ISRO convincingly demonstrates the ways in which cutting-edge modern science can be wedded to technology. As PM Modi said in the 94th Mann ki Baat episode, “Today, India is combining its traditional experiences with modern science.”
Since its inception in 1969, ISRO has conducted 89 launches, carrying satellites into space. If one were to analyse the relevance of the ‘Make in India’ (2014) and Atmanirbhar Bharat (2020) initiatives, it is palpable that ISRO has triggered more launches under the Modi government in comparison to all previous governments. Since 2014, ISRO has carried out 47 launches.
Having been denied space technology by the USA in 1992, the ‘Make in India’ initiative is a success story of its own kind. It has positioned India as one of the space superpowers while also generating good revenue for the country. Besides India’s own satellites, ISRO has launched 345 satellites for 34 countries, including the Netherlands, the United Arab Emirates, Belgium, Germany, Israel, and Kazakhstan generating a revenue of approximately USD 56 million (one million=10 lakhs) (220 million Euros) in the last 9 years.
In his memoir, R. Aravamudan, Abdul Kalam’s colleague, commends the meteoric rise of ISRO. He adds, ‘Today, ISRO creates, builds, and launches gigantic rockets which carry the complex spacecraft that form the neural network not just of our own country but of other countries too.’ Belief can be a collective power, and the confident, young India had started harnessing this skill. This is a new India with a firm belief in its skills and the Modi government’s space policy has paved new success stories, ISRO’s being the sterling one.
Contributing Author: Om Prakash Dwivedi tweets @opdwivedi82 His interests lie in the field of postcolonial theory.
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