The lure of space

The night sky has for long made one wonder about what lies in those distances and the darkness. The inquisitive human mind has always tried to figure out the origin of the universe, the birth of mother Earth and human existence. The lure of space has been to decode the mysterious universe and satisfy our hunger for knowledge.

The invention of the telescope enabled us to remove our blindfolds and actually see the objects floating in outer space. From establishing that the Earth is indeed round, not flat and the Copernicus model of our solar system, which states that the sun is in the center and not the Earth, we have come a long way. It has widened our scientific horizon and fueled our rationality, giving us the ability to see reality.

The first time the ambitious idea to actually try to reach these telescopic objects was born out during World War 2. The technological research and development of those times made it possible for people to realize this dream. Space became an arena for the Cold War rivals USA and USSR to prove their worth of the ‘Super Power’ tag. This geopolitical high-headedness actually had positive ripple effects for the world. Satellite’s ability to break free from Earth’s gravitational force proved that man achieved what was unimaginable before.

The man-made satellites were used to serve multiple purposes which have not only proved to be extremely beneficial for the world citizens but also, for the world’ s growth and development. The Remote Sensing / Earth Observing (EO) satellites are aimed at understanding the topography of the Earth, identifying potential sites for minerals exploration, tracking the formation and direction of cyclones, disaster management, ensuring security on international borders, etc.

These also provide relevant data and images for the implementation of key global conventions like Vienna Convention on protecting the ozone layer and the United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change (UNFCCC). The second type of satellites are the Communication satellites which are aimed at securing the network for mobile phones, the internet, satellite phones, etc. In the era of globalization, connectivity is pillared on these satellites. The lure of space is the possibility to bring the world closer.

The first person to enter space and orbit the Earth was the Russian cosmonaut, Yuri Gagarin which marked the beginning of the ‘Space Age’. Then, came the famed manned Apollo mission (1969) to the moon by the USA where Neil Armstrong took the “giant leap for mankind”. The object which was once seen from the convenience of the Earth was now touched upon by the human race. It was a huge accomplishment. This watershed moment helped in raising the interest of the global population in the field of astronomy and other similar fields.

International Space Station (ISS) is an artificial habitable satellite in Low Earth Orbit (LEO). It serves as a microgravity and space environment research laboratory in which crew members conduct experiments in biology, physics, astronomy, and other fields. Also, it provides the much-needed environment for testing of equipment for various interplanetary missions. Also, ISS has been the epitome of space coordination among multiple nations to benefit mankind.

Interplanetary explorations have been to our immediate neighbors- Venus, Mars as well as the ones further away like Saturn (Cassini spacecraft) in our solar system. We have ventured much farther into the cosmos like the Voyager-1 spacecraft. Through such missions, we have studied, examined and explored interplanetary elements. It has helped us provide information about Earth’s habitability and origins of the universe including the Big Bang Theory.

The renowned scientist Albert Einstein gave ” The General Theory of Relativity” which explained that the speed of light in a vacuum is same, irrespective of the speed at which the observer travels. Another world-famous scientist Stephen Hawking spent his entire life studying black holes. He found out that black holes are formed when extremely huge stars collapse and that even light cannot space it. Such revelations using space have helped us know the universe we live in.

The next generation of astronauts such as Kalpana Chawla and Sunita Williams, both of whom are Indians, fuelled the enthusiasm of Indians. Many were inspired and were lured by space. The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has the vision of sending a manned mission to orbit the Earth for a duration of seven days. It shows the technological prowess of India at the global level after it successfully sent Mars Orbiter in Mars’s orbit in its maiden attempt.

Recently, another type of satellite system was innovated to keep up with the changing demands of the new century. It is called the Navigation system satellites. It is a cluster of satellites (the number is dependent on the area to be serviced) which provides navigational services to the military as well as the civilians. It also benefits specific communities like fishermen when in sea and specific sectors like aviation. Many countries have successfully launched these navigation systems like USA (Global Positioning System), India (NAVIC) and the rest have their projects in the pipeline such as China (BeiDou) and Russia (GLONASS).

Middle Eastern countries such as the UAE and Saudi Arabia are investing in the space sector as a way of diversifying their oil economies. Also, many private companies have received commissions from the space organizations of countries like NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration), ISRO (Indian Space Research Organization), etc to perform important functions due to budget cut by union governments. The passion for space along with its amazing ability to help the people has lured private companies like SpaceX to reach the stars.

A major concern with the international lure of space has been the issue of debris pollution. More than 500,000 pieces of debris, or “space junk,” are tracked as they orbit the Earth. Thus, space presents another proof of “tragedy of commons”. They all travel at high speeds, fast enough for a relatively small piece of orbital debris to damage a satellite or a spacecraft. Various space organizations keep an eye out for them so to prevent damage to the working satellites.

In March 2019, it was announced that India had successfully conducted an anti-satellite (ASAT) mission. Named as Mission Shakti, it was seen domestically as proof that India was a space power on par with the United States, Russia, and China. Yet internationally, the test is further evidence of the more complex space domain, the lack of progress on developing norms of behavior for space, and the challenges of ensuring its long-term sustainability. Many security experts believe that it could begin the weaponization of space.

Thus, to prevent such space threats, the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space has been developed the forum for the development of international space law. The Committee has concluded five international treaties on space-related activities. Each of the treaties stresses the notion that outer space, the activities carried out in outer space and the accrued benefits from outer space should be devoted to enhancing the well-being of all countries and humankind, with an emphasis on promoting international cooperation.

The lure of space has tremendously affected our lives. It has democratized the media world over and also, provided a platform to connect with each other. It has given the right of free speech to all in true sense. Not only has it contributed towards the social welfare of the people but also improved the standards of governance. Ultimately, it has contributed towards the global economic growth and development. With the historic discovery like the beautiful ‘chirp’ of gravitational waves from the black hole mergers and our belief in Mars possibility of supporting life, the lure of space for humans seems never-ending.

5 comments

  1. Yeah, nice to have you on board, albeit for a fleeting moment. However, you are right about the modification aspect, a substantial amount of both time and resources are spent in taking technology to the masses. Also, it may have potential positive spin off, considering the business of it as well.

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  2. Hey Shrinkhla,
    I am a space enthusiast and reading this has been sheer joy, especially coming from a fellow civils aspirant.
    Truly, the weaving of so many pieces of information into one whole is a unique trait.
    Though, I must say, I was little disappointed to not see any reference to Interstellar! That’s blasphemy.
    I hope to know your opinion on whether space exploration is a luxury for India or not ?
    Anyways, I share with you the vision of Occupy Mars !

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    1. Thanks Sarang for taking out time and reading the article.
      I completely forgot about interstellar when I was writing this piece.
      And coming to the Indian space exploration being a luxury, I don’t believe that. The vision of Vikram Sarabhai was to use this space exploration for the social welfare and improving governance. And the positive results for the same can be very well seen in our daily lives.

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      1. I agree with your point about Mr.Sarabhai and the progress we have made, Shrinkhla.
        I am only trying to be the devil’s advocate here.
        The organisation is indeed worthy of appreciation, however it has severe financial constraints as well lack of reliable heavy lifting vehicles. So why not focus on only important basic civic aiding activities like say NAVIC, rather than on inter-planetary missions. Leave them for Blue Origin or Spacex?

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      2. I have always felt the same. Being a country where funds are insufficient, we can consider pursuing only those projects aimed that helping the population.
        But that approach is rather short-sighted. Most of our great achievements in science we hear were in ancient times. So, we need such explorations to restore our pride and prove our technological prowess.
        Also, we know these technologies developed, since WW2, have continuously been modified to help civilians. So, science can be replicated anywhere.

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