I have been wanting to write about this topic for quite sometime. But I delibrately waited for today when the Rs 33,000-crore Commonwealth Games (CWG) will be inaugurated. You may perhaps wonder how a grand sports event is connected with space. Both do not have any imaginable links at the moment-- there is after all no space sports in the real sense! The sports extravanganza in New Delhi is a moment which should hopefully make the government happy, but for some of our space scientists, I really doubt if it will be an occasion to uncork the champagne bottle.
The reason: while the government did not waste any time in approving the enormous funds for the sports gala, it has unfortuntately failed to display a similar enthusiasm for clearing the money needed for India's human space flight programme costing between Rs 12,000 to Rs 14,300 crores. This is half the cost of the CWG and still the government is not approving the funds in full. As a result the programme remains a paper project.
This is a strange situation because while the CWG is only a sports event, the manned mission on the other hand will play a key role in catapulting India into the league of Big Nations like the US, Russia and China. Apparently the government has not realised the importance and signficance of launching a manned space flight from this country. This is not to say that I am against sports. Far from it. But let us not forget a sporting activity is not an intellectual exercise like launching a human into space. The latter will inspire youngsters in India to study science and in the long run draw them into the space sector professionally. Sports on the other hand is more of a physical exercise!
That Isro is keen on launching this prestigious project is evident from the fact that its chairman, K.Radhakrishnan, has been announcing repeatedly that the government's approval for the manned mission was just around the corner. But it has never happened. I really do not know how he got the impression. Even without the formal green signal, he has been saying that the first flight to the low earth orbit is slated for 2015. Other officials have been stating that the human rated capsule was being developed. Isro officials are disgusted at the way the government is sitting over the files. It is time I think the government should follow the example of China and chalk out a precise road map of its future space missions.
One thing---Isro also has to share a part of the blame. It has so far not defined the real purpose--atleast publicly--of the manned space mission project. Will it be a merely a technology demonstrator or does it have any scientific role? Will there be just a single mission or will there be more flights? Again is it the first step towards embarking a human flight to the moon? All these questions need to be answered in the public domain.
Again to cite the example of China, it is clear that its manned mission is leading towards a human flight to the moon in 2025.
Who can forget April 12,1961? That was the day when the first man flew into space, opening a fresh chapter in world space history which once again shocked the Americans. He was a young Russian test pilot, Yuri Gagarin. His flight lasted 108 minutes.
India is planning some major events to mark the 50th anniv of this historic flight.
The programmes should not just consist of speeches and film shows recalling Gagarin's achievement. The celebrations should have greater significance.Maybe it should be an occasion by Isro to announce that the government has finally given the `go' for India's manned space flight project.
I hope this does not remain only a dream but becomes a reality.