THE LURE OF SPACE
November 17, 1882: The British Royal Observatory reported a strange celestial visitor-a circular object glowing green.
June 24, 1997: An Idaho (USA) businessman Kenneth Arnold, while flying near Mt. Rainier (Washington), spotted a group of nine silvery, crescent-shaped objects, flying in tight formation.
What were those strange sightings? They looked nothing like birds, were nowhere near in appearance to aircrafts and were quite different from clouds. Were they illusions? Were they hoaxes? Were they unidentified flying objects from the ‘extraterrestrial? There has been no confirmation or explanation for these and other numerous sightings before and after. Same holds true for the crop circles, intricate precision of pyramids, gigantic stone heinge, etc Almost each one of us, at one or the other point of our lives, have gazed up to the sky marveling at its sheer beauty, wondering where does it begin? Where does it end? What lies beyond our sight and what facts are waiting to be unveiled? Are we not alone? Are we sharing this existence? Are we the most primitive or the most advanced? Won’t it be too arrogant to believe that we are the only one in this universe? Do aliens and E.Ts exist? This unknown and unexplained aspect is the biggest ‘lure of space’.
A blend of earth, fire, water, air, and ether is said to be the basis of life. Man, the most developed life form on Earth, has been gifted with two unique qualities: one is curiosity and the other is perseverance to scrutinize what leads to curiosity. Through different phases of development, gradually man tamed fire; circumnavigated the earth; explored and analyzed the land to its core; fathomed the oceans to their beds and scanned the air with hot air ballons, aircrafts and spacecrafts, tracing different layers of atmosphere. But ether or
Posed a bigger challenge than anticipated. The advent of telescopes has enabled us to realize that there is more to the universe than mere earth, moon, sun and stars. The vast expanse of nothingness containing innumerable stars and other celestial bodies and galaxies and many a mystery that is yet to be discovered, is mesmerizing as well as charming. As it is, the idea of the conquest of space is as old as the human brain. Long before Kepler discovered celestial mechanics making interplanetary travel conceivable, space traffic existed in legends. Man rose to the heavens and gods visited Earth. The Puranas mention Devarishi Narad travelling to and fro in time and space. The first space novel was written in 160 AD. The first technical drawing of a three-stage rocket dates back to 1526. So we, the mankind, were bewitched by it and set off to pursue this highly tempting adventure.
Gradually the space research and development and technology started progressing and led us to that platform where the space race triggered in July 1956 with the USA announcing a satellite launch. The erstwhile USSR, which had also made a similar announcement after the USA, had the honour of launching the first ever satellite SPUTNIK 1 on Oct 4, 1957 and amazed the world. This flagged down the space race led by the then USSR, from 1957-1967 setting up many records like-
Laika, a dog, became the first living being in the Earth’s orbit aboard SPUTNIK 2, 1957;
Yuri Gagarin on board VOSTOK1, 1961: First person in space and in Earth’s orbit; Valentine Tereshkova became the first woman in space on board VOSTOK 6, 1966;
First probe to impact the Moon was LUNA 2, 1959; First space station SALYUT1, 1971;
First permanently manned station MIR orbited the Earth from 1986-2001 and the list goes on.
From 1967 onwards, the US started gaining on the then USSR. The US space agency. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) designed the APOLLO programme, which intended to land humans on moon. Six of these missions, APOLLO 11 to APOLLO 16, achieved the goal, amongst which APOLLO 11 became a milestone in the field of space exploration. Astronaut Neil Armstrong became the first man to leave footprints on the moon. His words “One small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind”, are emblazoned in gold in the history of space exploration. America’s first space station ‘SKYLAB’ kept the NASA busy from the end of APOLLO project to late 1970s. Building of reusable space vehicles, i.e. space shuttles by the NASA added another feather to its hat. Amongst them, COLUMBIA was the first to be launched on April 12,1981. Also, the probe plans like VIKING to Mars, PIONEER and VOYAGER missions to Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune; the placing of Hubble Space Telescope; International Space Station (ISS) are the other remarkable feats achieved by NASA. In 2006, China became the third I nation capable of sending ‘taikonauts’ (Chinese for astronauts) to space in their own spaceships. The other space-faring states are France (1965), Japan (1970), UK (1971), European Space Agency (1979), Israel (1988) and Iraq (1989).
India joined the dub in 1961 when the Atomic Energy Department started a programme on space research. It was realized that the exploitation of the vast potential of space for socioeconomic development can be done only if India develops ‘satellite launching’ indigenously and becomes self-reliant. The spirit of Indian space programme can be surmised in the following lines:
‘Don’t worry and fret, fainthearted,
The chances have just begun.
For, the best jobs haven’t been started,
The best work hasn’t been done’
Accordingly, in 1972, a space commission was set up in India. The Department of Space was established which carried out its plans through Indian Space Research Organization. India made its debut in the field of space research on April 19, 1975 when the first satellite, designed and fabricated by India, was launched from the erstwhile USSR. It was a purely experimental satellite christened ‘Aryabhatta’ after the famous Indian mathematician. It set the pace for all space-related ventures in India. On April 2,1984, Squadron Leader Rakesh Sharma, an air force pilot; became the first Indian in space. Aboard the Soviet Union spacecraft Soyuz T-ll, he did multispectral photography, anticipating the construction of hydroelectric power stations in the Himalayas. Since then India has successfully launched a series of satellites-Bhaskara 1; APPLE; the INSAT series; SROSS 3; IRS series; EDUSAT, etc., Simultaneously India has developed a range of launch vehicles namely SLVs, ASLVs, PSLVs, GSLVs and also has a launch site at Sriharikota. India has progressed inch by inch learning from its failures, modifying and refining techniques, honing skills and never looking back banking on the faith that:
“Manzil unhain milti hai, jinke sapnon meinjaan hoti hai. Pankhon se nahin, houslon se uhdaan hoti hai.” In this world where criticism is all pervasive, space programmes have no exception. Huge amounts of money are being spent on them, with each country having its own respective urgencies and responsibilities to cater to, is liable to raise questions. The answer to this is not complete yet. We know not where this hard work and expense will lead us? It might take ages to conclude. Nonetheless we had to start and we have to keep on going because without beginning there is no journey and without journey there will be no end. Who knows, we might find the solutions to all our problems in space only. As for now, daily weather forecasts, telephone calls to the far end of the earth or steering a boat with global positioning system are using space research and development. Remote-sensing satellites are monitoring our environment and managing natural resource efficiently. Communication technology has been revolutionized. Choice of one among hundred TV channels, ISD at cheaper rates, free e-mails and remote area connectivity are only the preliminary benefits derived from the ‘lure of space’. The best part is that these services not only pay their way out but are generating more and more profit for the general economy. Whole branches of economy are thriving on space services. Whether they are operated by private or by public bodies, their value and contribution to the economy as a whole, far out weights their development costs.
In the future, space technology will have a multifaceted role to play in preventing orbital collision of earth (as between Jupiter-comet Shoemaker Levy), alerting us before the occurrence of natural calamities and harnessing alternative energy sources like Sun.
– “Without the creative utilization of the space, the future will have no base!
And so I say: Let’s give in to the LURE OF SPACE.” Last but not the least 1 salute all those who sacrificed their lives for the benevolent cause of space research and say: “Let not their efforts be wasted,
For the rise of mankind, who perished?
Let their vision, dream and passion
Be realized and cherished”