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The race to the moon: Once taking baby steps in the space arena, India has now become a force to be reckoned with

With Chandrayaan-2 being launched, and Gangayaan in the works, India has established itself as a space superpower.

 |  Quantum Leap  |  3-minute read |   23-07-2019
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Half a century after the first human being landed on the moon, a new race has begun to return to the moon. Unlike the space race of the 1960s and 1970s, exclusively between the superpowers — America and the Soviet Union — the new race is more inclusive. Now, there are new players such as China, India and Japan as well as a host of private companies from America and Europe. Indian space startups too are participating in some missions.

India’s second mission to the moon — Chandrayaan-2 — and its future missions such as the manned space flight, Gaganyaan, need to be seen in this wider context. India had barely taken baby steps in the space arena when the first space race was underway in the 1960s, but the country is going to be a formidable player in the new race to the moon and Mars which has just taken off. The US space agency, NASA, has announced a new ‘Moon to Mars’ initiative under which, it will establish an orbiting space station called Gateway in the lunar orbit and use it for further exploration of the moon and possibly use the lunar surface for missions into deep space.

chandra690_072319053510.jpg Chandrayaan-2 is undoubtedly India’s most ambitious space project. (Photo: India Today)

The lunar station will be like the International Space Station (ISS) but much smaller in size. It will be 1000 times farther from the earth compared to ISS. While China is building its own space station, India has also recently announced its intention to do so. Russia too is reviving its Luna programme, the last mission under which was in 1976. So, the world is really in the grip of a new space race in which India is a serious contender. The race is also about discovering new science. When India sent its first lunar mission, Chandrayaan-1, questions were raised about its usability given the fact that man had landed on the moon some 40 years then.

Still, Chandrayaan-1 proved to be landmark in the history of lunar missions when it discovered the presence of chemical signatures of water on moon’s surface. This also showed that landing missions and rovers may have limited scientific output because they are confined to a smaller area of the moon. On the other hand, orbiting missions can yield more useful global data of the moon as they can rotate in the lunar orbit for a longer duration. The orbiter in the Chandrayaan-2 mission is designed to be in the lunar orbit for one year and is expected to generate useful data, which could lead to significant scientific discoveries.

iss690_072319053531.jpg Cold war geopolitics had resulted in the first space race. The second one is motivated by politics and the urge to gain technological supremacy. (Photo: Wikipedia)

The first space race was by-product of the cold war geopolitics. The new space race too has undertones of politics and ambitions of technological supremacy. India’s Gaganyaan is designed to coincide with 75 years of the country’s independence and is high on the government’s agenda.

(Courtesy of Mail Today)

Also Read: How India is catching up with China with the launch of Chandrayaan-2


Dinesh C Sharma Dinesh C Sharma @dineshcsharma

Journalist, columnist and author based in New Delhi.

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