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Rajya Sabha discusses India’s space journey

Sep 21, 2023 12:01 AM IST

While addressing the Rajya Sabha, Union minister of science and technology Jitendra Singh on Wednesday said that Chandrayaan-3 has been a major leap in the country’s space programme

New Delhi: Calling India’s third lunar mission, Chandrayaan-3, a major leap in the country’s space programme, Union minister of science and technology Jitendra Singh on Wednesday alleged that previous governments had kept the space department under a “veil of secrecy”. Under the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) regime, Singh added, the gates of Sriharikota—the hub for India’s space missions—have been opened to the common people.

On August 23, Isro created history by successfully landing the Chandrayaan-3 spacecraft near the lunar south pole. (PTI)
On August 23, Isro created history by successfully landing the Chandrayaan-3 spacecraft near the lunar south pole. (PTI)

The minister was addressing the Rajya Sabha during a discussion on “India’s glorious space journey marked by successful soft landing of Chandrayaan-3”. Singh accused the previous Congress governments of regimenting the space department and keeping the achievements of India’s space scientists away from the public.

“The common man was earlier debarred from even peeping inside the premises of space institutions. Why were they kept away? You had kept the space department behind a veil of secrecy. You had regimented it. You had disallowed it to be synergised with all the stakeholders. You had disallowed the industry to indulge in this and that is why the progress halted,” he said, adding that previously there was no, or little logistical support offered to space tech.

“What is important is that when we started our programme in the early and mid-1960s, on the one hand you had (Vikram) Sarabhai devoid of transport and on the other hand you had Soviet Union and United States preparing to land a human on the surface of Moon. That was the gap…between the two. Still this group of young scientists had that courage,” Singh said.

The minister also introduced Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) scientist P Veeramuthuvel, the project director of Chandrayaan-3, who was sitting in the Upper House’s gallery, and said the government has empowered the scientific community by increasing the budget for space science manifold.

“Our scientists never lacked talent or capability, they had integrity and the zeal to work hard and had dreams. They had the courage to do something even when they did not have anything,” he said. “But there was lack of an enabling atmosphere. And that shortcoming has now been removed.”

On August 23, Isro created history by successfully landing the Chandrayaan-3 spacecraft near the lunar south pole, a feat unprecedented back then. India also became the fourth country to successfully land on the moon after erstwhile USSR, the US and China.

Chandrayaan-3 lander and rover spent one lunar day—equivalent to 14 Earth days—collecting data and samples from the Moon, which could reveal secrets about the lunar surface, its atmosphere and composition, which have never been studied before.

Congress lawmaker Jairam Ramesh while lauding the efforts of Indian scientists in making the lunar mission a success, took a swipe at the government for appropriating the credit for the success of the mission. He said that while the whole country is proud of and rejoicing the success of the Chandrayaan-3 mission, the government alone cannot take credit for the landmark event as the country’s space programme was built over the years by successive governments, scientists and technologists.

Indian space programme, Ramesh said in the Rajya Sabha, should be looked at “as an instrument of development and not an instrument of muscular nationalism”.

“The success of the mission is based on the competencies, capabilities and capacities that have been created over 60 years,” he added.

Tracing the journey of the space programme, the foundations of which were laid in the 1950s, the senior Congress leader said the achievements are a result of the hard work of the scientists who “could have been anywhere” but chose to come to India.

The milestone of India’s space mission was achieved on February 22, 1962, when an office order was issued to establish the Indian National Committee for Space Research; the second milestone was the creation of the Isro on August 15, 1969, and the third milestone in July 1972 July when Satish Dhawan became the chairman of Isro, Ramesh said.

He also credited former prime ministers, including Atal Bihari Vajpayee, for creating an enabling environment for the scientists to work without impediments.

“It has always been space for development, space for communication, space for rural development, space for weather forecasting, space for identifying sources of water,” he said. “Indian scientists and technologists have never seen India’s space programme as a symbol of Indian nationalism. It has always been seen in a developmental perspective.”

The Congress MP also criticised Union minister Piyush Goyal for not mentioning the father of Indian space programme, Vikarm Sarabhai, in his speech. “It appears as if India’s space journey only started in 2014, and the sutradhar [facilitator] of this space journey is the prime minister,” Ramesh added.

Union finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman also highlighted that India’s space initiative was based on sustainability, backed by reforms with an aim to attract more funds as the government aims to institutionalise the private sector via its policy.

“India’s space programme is based on innovation along with sustainability. Isro scientists chose a path to reach the Moon to do it cost effectively using lesser fuel and serve sustainability... For the first time, the moon’s density, ionosphere, temperature has been recorded at its south pole,” she added.

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