Wednesday, October 22, 2008

'We got the whole moon in our hands!' :P :D

India's Technological Marvel!

This shall no doubt join the group of thousands of other blog-posts written by a sea of avid Indian bloggers, who have much reason to feel pride and a sense of achievement. Even though, I risk re-iterating what you must have no doubt gleaned via mainstream news media, I feel the simple urge to express my feelings on the issue, especially since I feel some ambivalence at this achievement and concern on its fiscal prudence given a country with a dichotomous social fabric.

No doubt, this is a historic day in this country's voyage to not only the stars, but also to a state of technological supremacy and global power. With this successful launch, India sends out a rousing message to the world, announcing (in fact asserting) its intention to be no more seen by that misinformed & jaundiced western periscope, which branded it as the 'land of the snake charmers'. That perception has been consistently proved wrong with India's booming economy and its advancements in the technological spheres of I.T., aeronautics and aerospace. But whatever residues persisted have been completely expunged today at 6.22 a.m., the moment the 320 tonne PSLV-C11 carrying the 'Chandrayaan-I' lifted off with a thunderous boom from the Satish Dhavan Space Centre (SDSC), Sriharikota. Over the course of the next 15 days, it shall encounter the moon, when its special moon impact probe would impact itself on moon's surface. In doing so, it shall provide a plethora of information on various geographic and chemical aspects of moon and its surface, which scientists say shall prove invaluable to both future moon missions, as well as on research for life on moon.

Already the congratulations are pouring in - The United States Ambassador to India, The European Space Agency (E.S.A.) all applauded India for both the cost-effectiveness of the mission (the previous Chinese & Japanese missions were relatively far more expensive) as well as for its technological drive and willingness to collaborate and share both technology and technical know-how with the world. The E.S.A. was especially vocal in its admiration, calling India "an ever increasing space power".

Thus, it is indeed a moment of intense national pride for every Indian citizen in the world. This signals India's willingness to be audacious in its vision and dexterity in executing it. It is a larger indicator of India's bullish brazenness on everything from industry to technology. It is also a fantastic sign that India can effectively participate in an international framework, not preferring to sit on the sidelines as it did on numerous ocassions in the past, but to seize the moment and take initiatives. The success of this project - which saw participation of scientists and technocrats from N.A.S.A. & E.S.A. among others, as also a firm politico-technological framework spun across the world - indicates of India's increasing alacrity at projects of trans-continental impact and global significance. It also in many ways is a sure sign of how red-tape and bureaucracy are slowly but surely being superseded by well-educated and influential technocrats in various arms of both conventional government and government agencies like I.S.R.O. It is this new crop of technocrats along with old stalwarts like G. Madhavan Nair, whom we owe this visionary success to. Already, there is a talk of future missions, among which a grand plan to send an Indian to set foot on the moon's pristine white surface!

Thus, as we are seemingly standing on the cusp of a technological make-over (and possibly an eventual take-over :P), one would have the tendency to wonder: "Now nothing can go wrong! India has arrived!". However, is that going to be the case? Clearly, we have astronomical levels of abject poverty in this country and this does not bode well for the social and political stability of the nation. It is estimated that a record number of the educated unemployed are post-graduates. Clearly, something is terribly amiss here. While I don't seek to be the killjoy, trying to predict a doomsday situation, I certainly feel that some objectivity should be maintained.

Now in a country of teeming billions and umpteen problems (rising inflation, absolute poverty for the majority, extreme wealth inequality, etc. to name a few), is it fiscally prudent to spend a significant amount of financial resources into an endeavor, which while it brings pride and prestige, is probably more an exercise in showmanship than a commensurate return on investments? Simply put, when the U.S., Europe and China are already onto it, why duplicate their efforts into similar projects? While it is true that this project, its predecessors and successors have proved quite invaluable to providing a space-swarjya (space self-independence), we must not try to overdo it by excessive spending on grandiose projects, which are more an ostentatious display of our newfound (and may I say quite misplaced) ego than a true scientific excursion.

But let me not spoil the merry mood with my serious talk and calls for introspection. Let us Indians indulge ourselves a little more on this magnificient success and bask in its glory. The hard-working, underpaid scientists at I.S.R.O. (and other ancilliary govt. agencies) deserve to be applauded and admired. They deserve every bit of adulation and slavish attention that they are getting from the Indian media and the Indian people. We owe them that much! However when the dust settles down, we must not forget them! We must seek to motivate such scientists by providing better financial emouluments and a better scientific framework in which they can exercise their creativity and embark on technological innovation.

But when the time eventually comes, we must have an iota of humility at the insignificance of these grandiose achievements to the millions of people, who lead desperate and abject lives in absolute poverty and no job security. And we must seek to improve their lot, so that in the future, such a moment shall be cherished by a majority of India's citizens, instead of a small, financially stable minority.

PS: For those who didn't understand, the title of the post is a reference to the late 50's spiritual song 'He's Got the Whole World in His Hands!'

N.E.W.S. Links:
'After Karva Chauth' @ Yahoo! NEWS
'A Perfect 13th successful launch for P.S.L.V.' @ Yahoo! NEWS
'With perfect launch, Chandrayaan heads for Moon' @ Yahoo! NEWS
'Chandrayaan-I successfully put into earth's orbit' @ Yahoo! NEWS
'U.S. lauds India's moon mission' @ Yahoo! NEWS
'President, P.M. congratulate Indian scientists on launch' @ Yahoo! NEWS
'Chandrayaan-I Picture Slideshow' @ Yahoo! NEWS


prashant said... by any chance G.nagarjun involved in this project..:P

anyways on a serious note..this mission has announced the entry of india in exploration space...Happy that the funds is been used for some serious exploration(Btw i didn't know some countries have already worked on the same project..thanks for the info. )

I guess chandrayan -1 will at least show the world india's technical capability to partner with others in future space exploration.

Hope it just does well..

Dinesh said...

Is the nation bigger than the people or vice versa? Who makes the call?

Terrific post btw. You seem to be getting better with age. :p

ananth iyer said...

Dear Rajiv,
Indian mission to Moon saga is well written by you.
On one hand you are praising the efforts, but on the other hand you are reminding us of the social problems prevalent in our country.
What exactly is your stand, is not clear.
If you feel that such efforts are not worth the money because of large scale poverty in our country,then i beg to disagree as scientific innovations have been done throughout the ages which have brought better life to our people.
Examples are computers without which the world lived & did things twenty years ago, but now we seem to disbelieve that the world could have existed without the wonder innovation called computer.
Also the whole polity has benefited with the advent of computers.
Who knows may be the exploration of the Moon could open new things which would benefit our earth.
Only through continued exploration in science & texhnology can mankind prosper.
ananth iyer

Shiv said...

You ready for Critical analysis and assesment article ?
Suggest you read this up.

I will give the rights provided credited on your blog :)

Directionless Wanderer said...

@Dinesh - I am not quite sure if this is my cousin bro in the U.S. or the college friend I know .... I am guessing its my cousin bro .... proceeding with that assumption:

Thanks a lot for the appreciation. I am glad you are finding an improvement in my writing with age/experience. As far as the issue of nation being bigger than the people .... that issue doesn't arise here at all! My question is not between the sanctity of individual freedom versus the larger common good of a nation .... My question simply is regarding my concern on excessive expenditure of scanty financial resources on scientific tasks/endeavors, which are more window-dressing than hardcore scientific scrutiny .... There is a real danger that our eager scientists, in conjunction with a public pleasing political class overspend money and other resources into projects which don't yield commensurate scientific insight.

The question is thus one of scientific accountability - just because we have the capacity to do a task X, which is supposed to be a big deal internationally, we shouldn't be compulsively doing it. There has to be a strong scientific rationale behind it backed up with concrete plans and feasibility studies. I am all for science that is productive and cost-effective. Let the U.S. and the richie-riches do all the expensive space work.

Directionless Wanderer said...

@ Ananth Iyer (Dad): Thanks for visiting and leaving your comments. I appreciate it.

The reason I chose to highlight the social and scientific dichotomy is simply because I am pained by it. It is sad to see so many of our fellow country-men in absolute destitution and in their desperate struggle to survive on a daily basis, they unfortunately do not recognize the importance and indeed the novelty of a space launch as big as this! The fact that a country that is priding itself with launching satellites to the moon and achieving increasing technological domination, has a majority of its populace living in abject circumstances, unable to partake in this celebration because they are unable to comprehend the supposed importance of the said launch is a tragedy onto itself!

Also, it is a well known and popularly accepted fact that innovation an scientific breakthroughs alone doesn't create jobs and thus doesn't move the economy forward. It is the innovative use of innovations and scientific breakthroughs that facilitates job creation, increasing purchasing power, thus creating impetus for moving the economy forward. The computer that you mentioned was originally a mathematical abstraction called the Turing Machine. Its earliest physical realization made it suitable only for extremely heavy numerical based applications and for esoteric research. It was the genius of a few innovators (who were most likely computer engineers/scientists turned astute businessmen) that lead to its widespread adoption as a word processor. Slowly, the computer has lost the semantic correctness over its name, as today's computers are frequently used for everything but their original, pure, unadulterated goal - computations!

So, in a nutshell - I am all for pure sciences! In fact, I aspire to be a pure scientist some day! But I really feel that we need applications that create a tangible difference in the way society functions.

And it is like I mentioned in my previous comment (refer the comment above for a more detailed explanation), a matter of scientific accountability.