India aboard the International Space Station?
Tucked away somewhere in the middle of the joint statement released by India and the US after President Obama's visit, is a small paragraph. It talks about an intention to work together on space technologies. There is a teasing reference to the International Space Station or ISS.
The Space Station is the largest, most expensive satellite ever built. It's also a stunning example of how even the worst enemies can collaborate.
During the cold war, the US and Soviet Union both tried to dominate space. As soon as the war ended, budgets for space missions dried up in both countries. As if the quest for cutting edge technology was merely a testosterone driven race to show who was top dog.
Thankfully, better sense prevailed. Both countries pooled resources to build a laboratory that was literally, out of this world. People have now lived on the space station continuosly for the past ten years.
They study radiation and its effects on plant, animal and human life. They research evolution and if it behaves any differently when there's no gravity. They're making medicines, from chemicals that mix well only in space. They're preparing for a day when humans might actually build colonies completely cut off from Earth.
Today, fifteen different countries jointly run experiments on the space station. And India has just been told, it might have a chance.
What could we possibly give the space station? Money, suggests Dr Kasturirangan, former Chairman of the Indian Space Research Organization, ISRO. It's hard to sustain a giant flying home cum lab in space, while there's recession on Earth. As a growing economy, the Americans figure we might have some cash to spare.
And then, there's the brains. The Chandrayaan moon mission was the world's cheapest moon shot ever. And the only one that succeeded on the very first attempt. For a third world country to pull that off, in the face of international non-co-operation, is astounding.
Add to that the fact that it was our moon shot which helped find water, which humans need to set up a real extra-terrestrial base. We've got the brains and balls to raise international innovation to a new level.
What do we get in return? A hi-tech lab that's like nothing on Earth. Space training for our astronauts. Valuable experience for our manned mission to the moon. And the chance to collaborate as equals with the best in the world.
Remember, China's already building its own space station. For much the same reasons. They've not been invited to the ISS, probably because their missions have always been very secretive. And quite often, tied to military research.
For something this momentous, you'd have thought top officials at ISRO would have been consulted long before Obama's visit. Surprisingly, just one month before the joint announcement, Dr Radhakrishnan, chief of ISRO publicly denied there were any plans to collaborate on the ISS. Check out the video link below, his statement is around the 56th or 57th minute.
To add to the mystery, no ISRO official was present in the delegation that met President Obama. None was around when the joint statement was released. So was the agency kept in the loop at all?
More about Jaimon JosephI've always been scared around gadgets and software. And in awe of people who're good with them. After three years of science and tech reporting though, I think I'm starting to get the hang of things. Before this, I covered automobiles, health, careers and business, for seven years. Nice thing about technology is, it lets me poach into all those fields once in a while. I love this job. But I'm not sure how I managed to land it. I did my BA in Advertising from Delhi College of Arts and Commerce and MA in Journalism from Madurai Kamaraj University. I wanted to be a cartoonist, a guitar player and a footballer but sucked in all those fields. I can play the flute and harmonica though. And I have an interest in machines that move - it was cars and bikes earlier but considering there's nothing revolutionary happening there, it's military stuff now. I'm the sort who drools over figures. Not the 36-24-36 types. But top speed, acceleration, fuel consumption, drag co-efficient. I drive an Alto though. And usually take the Metro to work.
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