India’s Space Program Spreads Optimism Throughout the Global South

The successful landing of India’s Chandrayaan-3 module on the South Pole of the Moon on Aug. 23, in the middle of the BRICS Summit in Johannesburg, South Africa, sent a powerful message to the world on the possibility for all nations, however big or small, developed or developing, to achieve scientific breakthroughs (cf. SAS 35/23). That optimism was expressed by Brazilian President Lula da Silva in his weekly broadcast to the nation on Aug. 29.

He said he had asked Indian Prime Minister Modi how his country had achieved this feat, since Brazil’s space program, launched at about the same time as India’s, has barely advanced due to the lack of investment. As reported by Lula: “What he told me was exceptional. They have 100 schools — 100 schools! — where kids are studying and making rockets. And these rockets will all be launched into space by the students themselves. I was amazed! I was amazed, because it’s not one school, it’s 100, because they invest a lot in science, they invest a lot. And this is something we need to do here in Brazil, because we also have many, many, many, many people who are geniuses, we just need to give them the opportunity to flourish.”

The unique characteristics of India’s space program were taken up at the Sept. 9 Schiller Institute online conference (cf. SAS 37/23), by Dr. Kiran Karnik, who worked with the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) for over 20 years. In his presentation, he stressed that from the beginning in the 1960s, the driving force of India’s program has been “how can space be used to benefit the country in economic and social terms? That was in addition to the scientific venture, as I said that started earlier on, so you might say it stood on two legs: first, scientific exploration, on a continuing basis, looking at the many unknowns and trying to find out the many things that space hides, you might say, and reveals as we go up there. And importantly, how can we use space and space technology to do things that will benefit people on Earth?”

In that context, Dr. Karnik quoted the founder of India’s space program, Dr. Vikram Sarabhai, who famously said: “We are convinced that if we are to play a meaningful role nationally and in the community of nations, we must be second to none in the application of advanced technologies to the real problems of man and society.” And further that the space program “is not to be confused with embarking on grandiose schemes, whose primary impact is for show rather than progress measured in hard economic and social terms.”

Dr. Karnik mentioned a few examples of the practical applications of space technology, namely in communications, in agriculture (remote sensing for land use), in weather prediction and in bringing education to those living in remote and rural areas.

The proceedings of the SI conference are available here.

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