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Friday 22 November 2019

ISRO Too Competent To Need Society’s Immature Reaction

Opinion of Sirf News

Three days have passed since Lander Vikram strayed from the planned trajectory; the nation is still trying to motivate ISRO scientists as if they were in a state of despondency, notwithstanding their 95% success in meeting the Chandrayaan-2 mission objectives

The non-stop assurances from the scientists of ISRO that they are working on re-establishing a communication link with lander Vikram may be routine work for them. Anybody who has been following the feats of the astronomers that the space agency houses since the days of Aryabhatta and Rohini would know that. The continuous media coverage of the effort is but projecting India as an immature nation. At the most, a couple of machines — lander Vikram and rover Pragyan — is all that Mission Moon in the shape of Chandrayaan-2 cost the exchequer. The inability of Vikram to soft-land is not comparable to the death of Kalpana Chawla and six other crew members in the ill-fated or badly prepared space shuttle Columbia in February 2003. But the collective sigh the nation heaved as the vehicle strayed from its trajectory 2.1 km from the surface of the south pole of moon was a result of the frenzy that the media had built up, which included the world media where National Geographic sent former astronaut Jerry Linenger all the way to India — only to be wasted in a dumbed-down, monotonous session anchored by a television personality who would best qualify for frivolity for a show on a channel like MTV or Channel V, which actually used to be his vocation in the 1990s. In keeping with the tenor of superficiality, not only the television channels in regional languages but also a seasoned science correspondent of an English language channel went over the top.

Already, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had struck a jarring note earlier that day. An invocation of Chandrayaan-2 was in no way needed to vent her ire at the NRC. Those 24 hours ended in a not-so-impressive overact of consoling ISRO chief K Sivan. While the encouragement by Prime Minister Narendra Modi was absolutely in place, the hard patting and caressing — forcing Sivan, lower in physical stature, to remove his eyeglasses that were getting pressed against his face — would befit an occasion like motivating a kindergarten kid who had just flunked an exam. This holds regardless of the tears of Sivan, who might well have maintained his composure if the same outcome had unfolded in a less hyped scenario with no VIP presence in his office. The best aspect of the prime minister’s motivational act was his speech. But where is the impact thereof? Three days have passed since then and the mood reflected by media headlines is still one of mourning. Such behaviour behoves a society of underachievers, the antonym of the mettle ISRO is made of.

ISRO has hardly failed, with its 2,379 kg orbiter carrying adequate fuel slated to send the world signals from the moon for the next seven years, it is now learnt. Earlier, the agency had successfully located the lander well before its lifespan of a lunar day (14 earth days) would be over. If up to 95% of the mission objectives have been met, our society should be confident rather than hopeful that perfection will be accomplished in the next attempt, notwithstanding the difficult challenge of communicating to an object at a near-impossible angle from a place on the moon that is barely visible from the earth. Reducing the landing speed from this attempt’s 58 m/s should be relatively a less daunting ask. Much greater achievements await ISRO in the future, for which work like Gaganyaan is already in progress. Even as the orbiter of Mangalyaan keeps sending us information of the red planet, Mars Orbiter Mission 2 could be ready by 2024, with India having mastered aerobraking to reduce apoapsis. There is too much of the solar system and the galaxy to be discovered and added to the scope of human knowledge even beyond the marvels ISRO and comparable space agencies (which have known more and worse setbacks) have produced so far and going to offer in the form of mission to the sun Aditya-L1 and Venusian orbiter mission Shukrayaan-1. The nation must behave in a postpubescent manner to countenance the stage of excellence we are in at the moment.

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