A feather in ISRO’s cap

It was a moment of pride for our country to watch ISRO space agency’s old warhorse, the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV), blasted off into space at 9:51 A.M, with two foreign satellites from the spaceport of Sriharikota. ISRO’s 100th space mission, the Sunday’s launch, is a milestone in our nation’s space capabilities. “The ISRO community has always been a source of inspiration to our country through its quest for the stars. I wish all of you the very best as you continue the journey to push the boundaries of science and technology, and reap its benefits for society and for accelerated social and economic development of our great country,” said the proud Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh who, along with the cream of Indian space scientists, watched the satellite rise into the blue. Incidentally, this year also marks the 50th anniversary of the commencement of our space programme.

ISRO, the prestigious scientific and technological research centre of the country has the ambitious programme of exploring the stars and the sky, to reach other planets and take the country forward in service to mankind. This is a moment when we should express gratitude to the pioneers of Indian space science and technology who chartered the path for India to join the group of advanced nations of the world. This is the moment when the Indian nation must write in letters of gold the contribution of Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, the father of India’s space and satellite technology. His work and of others at the ISRO will remain a source of inspiration to the entire nation. Given the string of successes since then, we often forget how challenging space technology is and what a relatively new field it continues to be.

Questions are sometimes raised about whether a poor country like India can afford a space programme and whether the funds spent on space exploration, albeit modest, could be better utilized elsewhere.  In his address the Prime Minister did touch on the point and remarked, “This misses the point that a nation’s state of development is finally a product of its technological prowess. The founding fathers of our space programme faced a similar dilemma, but they persevered in pursuing their vision. When we look at the enormous societal and national benefits that have been generated in diverse fields, there can be no doubt that they were right. Equally, I have no doubt that ISRO will build on these glorious traditions and scale still greater heights,”

There are critics who think that India’s race for space exploration is meant to compete with China, the other Asian power that is growing up fast in the areas of technology and space science. This is partly true and partly not true. India has strong technological base and vast technological manpower.  She has the urge and the capacity to launch major research projects and plans and carry forward the borders of knowledge. India is not a small country that would look to others for inspiration and guidance. Her quest for extending the borders of knowledge is unending. Therefore to think that all that we do is China centric is tantamount to betraying signs of ignorance of Indian mind and vision. India has the elaborate programme of exploring more heavenly bodies and what is obtaining there. It has nothing to do with China or other countries.  Nevertheless, it should not go unsaid that India has to care for her security and territorial integrity as well. She needs to have cordial relations with her neighbours and China is a neighbour. India cannot close her eyes to what is developing in the next door countries. Today’s world is not the world of isolation and exclusiveness; we are in an era of globalization and we cannot escape the impact of what happens in other regions of the world.  Be it the nuclear programme or the space programme, India is committed to peaceful use of science and technology. India is developing these branches of knowledge to find out how best the research and advancement can contribute to the improvement of quality of life of her people and the world at large. She has no ill will against any country especially not against her immediate neighbours and believes in peaceful co-existence.

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