Commodore, Royal Saudi Navy (Retired)
A few months ago, I got an invitation to attend an event at the NASA Mission Control Center at Johnson’s Space Center in Houston, Texas, to be held by the end of this month. I will write in detail about his event in my next column. When I first received the invite, some thoughts crossed my mind. I thought about India and asked myself why India not only amazes me but it always comes up with surprises for people around the world? You must be wondering what does my visit to NASA have to do with India? There are many things in India that continue to fascinate people around the globe. I am not talking about the beautiful Taj Mahal, the spicy Indian cuisine, its political and electoral system or its rich and diverse culture. The Indian civilization is one of the oldest in the world and it is currently one of the most rapidly modernizing countries. It became a republic in 1950 after gaining independence from the British in 1947. In a very short span, this country progressed miraculously. This is what always amazes me about India. Let us talk about India and America’s NASA. Or in other words, let us talk about the one aspect of India that many people are not aware of. On July 20, 1969, America landed two men on the moon. Many people around the world watched the historic event live on their television sets but a great number of Indians missed the event because many didn’t have television sets at that time. This, however, did not deter the Indians from establishing the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) on Aug. 15, 1969. Interestingly, that happened only 25 days after the United States made history by landing two men on the moon — and the Indian space exploration success stories continued. Years of hard work and small steps on this path have placed India at the forefront of the list of countries aiming to explore and conquer the outer space. In 2008, ISRO launched Chandrayan-1 moon vehicles — India’s first lunar probe. Amazing, isn’t it? This feat apparently did not satiate Indian experts’ hunger to strive for the best. So, last year the ISRO sent a spacecraft to Mars and with that, India joined the elite club of the most advanced countries of the world. It is true that a few other countries were able to send spacecraft to Mars but India’s achievement was different. They were successful in doing so in their first attempt. Europe was also able to do it in the first go but it was a consortium of many countries. What astonished the world was the low cost of the Indian project. It cost India less than $80 million — one-tenth of what other space agencies paid for their projects. Some space agencies allocated and spent $750 million. It is said that in the launching of their spacecraft, the Indian scientists used and employed a slingshot method for Mangalyaan’s interplanetary journey. This is considered an unusual method. With India’s achievements to send a spacecraft to Mars at such a low cost, may be India’s space agency will become the future transporter facilitating human travel from Earth to Mars. At this stage, what India achieved can be taken as an example for what other countries can and should achieve for the good of our planet. These kinds of achievements could prove to be a source of inspiration for researches and more discoveries for new things in the outer space. India’s achievement should serve as a lesson for other countries to help them utilize their financial resources wisely on scientific projects. Let us go back to NASA. In 1960 US President John Kennedy said that America would send a man on the moon in a decade. Now, I am not familiar with the politics of India. However, many saw India dispatching a spacecraft for Mars just few weeks after the election of Narendra Modi as the prime minister of the world’s largest democracy. The Indian scientists’ achievement at the Indian Space Research Organization could not have come at a better time for the new premier. Written by Abdulateef Al‐Mulhim. Why India Always Amazes Me? reprinted with permission of Arab News and Abdulateef Al‐Mulhim.