Monday, July 26, 2021

Moon mission

Forget the politics and politicization of India’s Chadrayan II Mission to the moon, the snapping of communication with the robotized Vikram lander, in the last few moments, is not a failure. Science and scientific accomplishments don’t come about in ‘Eureka’ moments. They are built on painstaking efforts, inspiration of inquisitive and critical minds, their ability to use knowledge and apply it for innovation as well as achievements of scientists in the past. This journey for India began in the 1960s when scientists like Vikram Sarabhai and Homi J. Bhaba took the lead and built the foundations of India’s space programme while the government back then made remarkable efforts to use educational institutions at all levels to inculcate scientific temperament among the public particularly students. Ever since then, India’s space technological development has been a continuous journey, marked with many achievements, successes and also some disappointments. The latter have not deterred scientists and they have used the flaws to bring improvements and innovation and moved ahead. Scientific achievements are moments of pride for a nation but beyond and above national pride they are major milestones in the history of science and an achievement for all scientific community across the globe. Any politicking over the small and big successes and failures of scientific missions is unjustified. If some loud mouthed ministers from Pakistan went head over heels to rebuke the inability of the ISRO scientists to resume contact with Vikram lander minutes before it touched the surface of the moon, hours before the launch the Indian television channels went berserk turning the entire operation into a live circus and the prime minister turned it into a photo-op by choosing to sit inside the control room with a select group of bright students. There has been no such precedent anywhere in the world where politicians have sought to usurp the moment of the scientists. Turning the launching of the moon mission into a spectacle is not only discouraging for scientists; it also forbids inculcation of scientific temperament and critical thinking. Instead, it turns scientific processes into some kind of a display of nationhood and national chauvinism peppered with muscle power. India’s been on the path of launching different space missions, besides other scientific achievements, in the last half a century. But no hype was ever created and the success of the missions was announced only the next day. ISRO’s partially failed mission is not a failure for science and scientists, who will soon rectify the errors and continue with the mission, even go beyond. It was simply a failure for those seeking to turn it into an opportunity for self-promotion. It was a set-back to the television channels that turned the mission into a side-show for their benefit and also for TRP ratings. Scientific missions and progress must not be politicized and they should not also be turned into mere tools for whipping up frenzy over national glory. The progress of science must be used instead to inculcate scientific reasoning and critical thinking in the minds of the young so that the continuity of scientific achievements can be better maintained and understood as not just processes to enhance national pride but processes that could benefit the entire human race. Back in the 50s, the USA and Soviet Union, the only two super powers in the world, started the space race which revolutionised the world of space science forever. From sending satellites and humans in space, the first man achieved the unthinkable and landed on the surface of the moon. American astronaut, Neil Armstrong, became the first human to put a foot on the moon. His legendary words did not seek to exalt the might of his country. They were: “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”