“Sir, if my child had got 95% marks in the school final, I would have been over the moon. But, here, when my boss is crying like a child, despite the child getting 95% in the most difficult exams, for a club of 3 or 4, I cannot but join. But Sir, I am overjoyed that India is crying after getting 95%. That means we are now aware that we are capable of 100%. There is always a next time in the long journey of life. This is a lesson I will teach my children from my dear employer -Indian Space Research Organisation. Pray India learns too.” An Office Assistant Ramu, is quoted as lamenting, on seeing Prime Minister Narendra Modi warmly hugging ISRO Chairman K.Sivan, who broke down when the last 2.1 kilometres connectivity with Vikram Lander snapped, in a long journey lasting all of 2,90,000 kms to the lunar space on the south pole.
Oh My God, it was a moment for the gods. Moist eyes of 1.3 billion Indians at 01:50 hrs when the link snapped and Doppler Curve went tizzy on the ISRO Control Room screen. ISRO scientists and India did not fail. We made it. We are not satisfied with 95% success even as the Orbiter is circling the lunar space, and would continue to send valuable information for over a year. We wanted 100% success. We willed the Vikram Lander to soft land on the south pole of Chandramaa. And then 3 hours later for the doors to open and Tiranga to unfold: the Pragyan Rover to roll out on its journey around a 500 metre circumference with a 14 day lunar timeline: the tyres of the Pragyan embossed with the Ashoka pillar and ISRO insignia to embed on the moon, to begin India’s veritable colonisation of it.
Alas, it was not to be. We fell short by a whisker, as even we the nincompoop commoners could make out from the faces of the assembled Karmayogic scientists.
‘Bharat Mata cried with us, in unison. Not in disappointment, but for having almost made the impossible a reality. We were aware of the success ratio of lunar missions undertaken in the last six decades is 60 per cent, according to US space agency National Aeronautic Space Agency’s ‘Moon Fact Sheet’. Of the 109 lunar missions during the period, 61 were successful and 48 had failed, it stated. We came close, numbingly close during the ’15 minutes of terror’ as Sivan had put it so eloquently.
Chandrayaan-2 was led by Muthayya Vanitha and Ritu Karidhal, the Project Director and Mission Director, respectively. Vanitha has been with the ISRO for 32 years while Karidhal has worked there for 22. Both women have expertise in engineering and were fundamental to the planning and execution of this mission. Thirty percent of the team working on the project are women. While Parliament has denied India 33% reservation in Lok Sabha seats despite every other party promising it in their manifesto, the women have royally claimed one third of critical positions, not as a right reserved for them, but as a right truly theirs by merit. Amazing statistic the Parliamentarians would do well to note and emulate and if Modi can’t during this term, India may never ever.
We The People may have had OMG moments in our lives- individually, family based, community driven, city specific or State centric or even nationally, say when India won Bangladesh its freedom in 1971, 1975 World Cup in Hockey, 1983 World Cup in Cricket, 1999 Kargil War. But none to match this #Chandrayan2 moment. For once, one felt like hugging even our bizarre and cacophonous idiot box anchors, otherwise abhorred, for their loud mouthed shouting. It was that kind of a day, evening, night and morning, which as fate would ordain ended in 5% mourning as Vikram Lander could not be soft landed. In his centenary year, Vikram Sarabhai, may have played truant when it mattered, for the disdain and indifference we, as Indians, have shown to these brave, self-less, nation driven scientists. We did not deserve 100% success though our scientists richly deserved it. May be we spoilt it for them. Sorry Sirs, we are genuinely sorry that our prayers felt short by 2.1 kilometers which mattered.
The lessons learned from India’s bold attempt to soft land Chandrayaan-2’s Vikram module on the lunar surface will help the country during its future missions, former NASA astronaut Jerry Linenger said.The internationally acclaimed Neil de Grasse, scientist, author, podcaster, ‘astro physicist cum science communicator’, as he calls himself was all praise for India’s effort to spent 0.6% of its GDP on such efforts, even while tackling poverty. De Grasse was astounded that our #Chandrayan2 was run on 900 crore budget. He said every rupee spent was worth its weight in the elusive moon soil. Neil was effusive in his praise for India showing the world the way to go as progress in science and space related in particular was too critical for our very survival as homo sapiens. The channels did well to host scientists, not the daily dose of pseudo experts. For once, we did not mind seeking such affirmation from western sources for they had been there and done it before.
India Prime Time has not always been worth embracing, even as the anchors shout across channels, at themselves and us too, day in and day out. But on the Friday, 6th, Sept, 2019 leading to the wee hours of 7th, we were willingly hopping channels to digest every word, syllable we were hearing from scientists who rightly hogged the limelight this one day. Scientific temper was the reigning deity as dogma and superstition took the back seat where they belonged. Would it last? Or it was just a one day fancy that overtook us as we assimilated the hugeness of the occasion only on that day as it unfolded in front us on live television.
Kailasavadivoo Sivan led team has stuck to its scientific discipline, even as reports suggest that Vikram Lander, which may have had a ‘Space is Hard” (NASA line) landing, was located.” It means nothing. We have not been able to establish any form of communication with it and, till we do so, it is of no significance”.
Truly, even social media invasion was welcome and not tolerated by us. The exchanges and comments and the Kalpana Chawla space tragedy recalled, drove home the bigness of the moment. It took us long to get the hang of what Sivan, Vanitha, Karidhal & Co were setting out to achieve for us. The decades, years , months, weeks, days, hours, minutes, seconds, they spent on this mission, were broken down to us, as the time for the Vikram Lander to soft land was fixed at 01.52.54 (was it a Modi magical Ashtakshara Om Namo Narayana connect to 8?). As ISRO officially tweeted “Rough breaking of #VikramLander ends and Fine braking phase starts #Chandrayaan2. Minutes ago, the lander began its descent to the South Pole region of the moon. The descent is being done in four phases. “From about 30 km to 7.4 km, 7.4 km to 5 km, 5 km to 400 m and 400 m to descent.” our hearts were pounding and lips dried up. Prayers were welling up so effortlessly even for non believers. Wherever he is, Abdul Kalam would have loved the manic magic and spell that #Chandrayaan2 cast on us to bless us.
(N.Vijayaraghavan, Author is practising advocate in the Madras High Court)