It’s the imagery silly. Those frozen frames in museums that tell a thousand stories of a triumphant India. Pictures that a generation passes to the next about what the country achieved in their lifetime. Giving us a reason to rejoice that we are indeed born in a great nation! Where no obstacle is insuperable; no barrier unchallenged. When Indians have toiled and won, with intelligence, commitment and devotion towards a cause. Images of Gandhi spinning a revolution sitting at his charkha, Nehru’s hoisting the Tricolour at the Red Fort, Lt Gen Jagjit Aurora getting Pakistan’s Niazi to signature a surrender, Pokharan I etc are all priceless prints in the treasured album of our nation. Our generation is now poised at that momentous instance again where another such image is waiting to be snapped. India on the Moon! Sending Out a Message Had it not been for the powerful symbolism, Russia and the US would not have wrestled each other to erect touchstones in the Universe. So if Russia sent Sputnik 1 as the first mission into space, US matched it with Apollo 11 which was the first to land on the Moon. The projects did not proffer a true measure of their prowess; but wearing the diadem of being the first earthlings in outer space or on the Moon was something else; a mission to fight for, even one to die for. Marketing glitz is a decisive driver in the gauge of our worth in the modern day world. How we project an achievement or hype a feat is now a matter of great weightiness, especially in international diplomacy. When a simple blitzkrieg of a Harry Potter can set off a mania that can make an unemployed Brit a billionaire, imagine how much it can puff the collar of a nation when the greatest show on earth is unveiled at Bird’s Nest in Beijing to a gasping globe, even if it includes manipulated video. That’s exactly the point for the Moon mission. If you aren’t up there, you aren’t up to it yet. Been There Done That; Big Deal Inclusion in exclusive clubs ipso facto lends aspirants the high class stamp. You are the happening lot if you dine at G-8 meets, or determine international policy because you are one of the P-5s, or ‘safe keep’ nuclear weapons of the world but press others to abandon any hopes of owning the arsenal. In this regard it has been a good year for China. After presenting a jaw dropping extravaganza at the Olympics, it became only the third nation ever to have successfully executed a spacewalk. As television channels across the world beamed the visual, the Chinese flag that the dangling astronaut waved from cosmos helped drive home the point – that China was a country on the march and the sole superpower better make space. It is for this reason that the ‘been there done that’ argument does not hold. Helping Fight Poverty Gross Domestic Happiness is also a much touted idea these days, but in reality it is the size of the market or purchasing power that determines a country’s standing. It does not matter then that you hide an underbelly of trenchant poverty. In fact one of the criticisms cited is that when you have half a billion waiting to be fed, should the big bucks be spent on space fuel. There are no easy solutions to gun versus butter problems. But a pragmatic look at the figures brings out hard facts. The project is expected to cost Rs 386 crore(USD 78 mn appx), which is but a mere mote of our trillion dollar GDP. Space exploration and technology development are no impediments to poverty alleviation. The brouhaha against the mission would sink if one were to take into account that our space programme, since its launch in 1961-62, has made great contributions in the fields of education, telecommunication, agriculture, remote sensing, disaster management, cartography among others. It is in fact the lower strata that have benefited the most as technology has aided farmers to choose crop patterns and plantation timings, fishermen have been forewarned by weather bulletins and rural poor given an access to tele-education. So while poverty eradication and space technology are nearly exclusive in terms of resource sharing, they are complimentary when it comes to taking the country forward as a whole. Despite our best efforts we would probably need to wait several lifetimes before all the destitute of India are housed and fed. But by neglecting technology, we may miss our big ticket to the table of the mighty. Chandrayaan-I’s flight should be seen as emblematic of an India on the rise. Objectives of the mission Other than the objectives stated above, Chandrayaan-I aims to conduct chemical and mineralogical mapping of the entire lunar surface besides scouring for clues to its derivation. By finding out the distribution of its abundant elements such as Magnesium, Aluminum, Silicon, Calcium, Iron and Titanium we may be laying the road for future generations to exploit resources in outer space when our own have nearly exhausted. The mission will also prepare a three-dimensional atlas of both near and far sides of the Moon and help determine the nature and stratigraphy of its crust. Promoting Scientific Temperament A nation that does not cultivate a scientific temperament withers in the grossness of superstition. The Chandryaan-I mission will inoculate the nation with a feel good factor that is likely to propel a generation into serious contemplation of a career in science. It will also be an attempt to reclaim our ancient supremacy in the field. It is to the credit of Aryabhatta that India contracted the correct measure of the Earth’s circumference when the Europeans were yet hunting in animal skins. The calculation of occurrences of eclipses, the theory of gravitation, the discovery that Sun was a star, determination of number of planets in our solar system, the use of the mathematical value of pie etc are all a part of our rich academic heritage. Earlier still we find commentaries in the Vedas on astronomy, medicine and mathematics. Evidence of the use of advanced weaponry in olden warfare and rockets much later by Tipu Sultan is well established. October 22, 2008 will undoubtedly be carved as the moment of glory for not just our space scientists, but for all those inquisitive minds in the past whose incisive intellect sought to answer the unasked questions of mankind. Lure of the moon The mission is also India’s response to man’s eternal fascination of this enigmatic celestial body. Since eternity, the Moon has been a source of curiosity, lore, romance and wonder. The mission will be an attempt to unlock some of its mysteries, especially about its origin and many of its marvels. All our space missions so far have been within the ambit of the Earth’s orbit. The 4-lakh km journey of Chandrayaan-I will therefore be our aspiration’s flight from the limit of our infinitesimal home into the vast expanse of infinity. And as the spacecraft lands on the lunar surface, there is every reason for an exulting billion on Earth to be literally over the moon.