NEW DELHI – When a rocket takes off from an island in the Bay of Bengal in the days to come, it will carry not only a lunar vehicle, but also the growing ambitions of a nation in space.
On Monday, India will embark on its most complex space odyssey to date with the launch of its second lunar mission.
Chandrayaan-2, whose launch coincides with the fiftieth anniversary of Apollo 11, will attempt to gently reach the lunar region of the South Pole of the Moon during the first week of September. Scientists say the region is crucial because it is possible that water and craters contain fossil record of the early solar system.
Chaitanya Giri, a member of the space and ocean studies program of Gateway House, a Mumbai-based think tank, said it would be the first landing of a spacecraft on the lunar south pole.
The mission consists of a lander named Vikram, according to the first head of the Indian space organization, and a rover called Pragyan, which means "wisdom" in Sanskrit.
If successful, the mission will advance understanding of the moon and "benefit India and humanity as a whole," according to the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO). Its leader, K. Sivan, told NDTV News that Vikram's 15-minute descent "will be the most terrifying moments because we have never undertaken such a complex mission."
The country's first space mission, Chandrayaan-1, launched in 2008, was instrumental in the discovery of water on the surface of the moon. The president of ISRO declined to comment further, citing a "busy schedule" before launch.
Although India's space program began in the 1960s, it gained a new significance under Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The nationalist leader was re-elected in May after a campaign focused on security and patriotic rhetoric. Modi promoted the space program as a symbol of the country's growing stature on the international scene and a bulwark of its defense capabilities.
The lunar mission is not the only one on the horizon. In 2022, the Indian Space Agency plans to send an inhabited mission to Mars. In 2014, he successfully sent an unmanned orbiter to the Red Planet.
"India has begun making decisions that will make this country a major space power," wrote Mark Whittington, author of two studies on space exploration. To become a major player on the world stage, India had realized that it needed a "vigorous space program," he said.
During his election campaign in March, Modi suddenly addressed to the nation a televised speech in which it was revealed that India had become the fourth country to shoot down a low-orbit satellite with a missile. Russia.
Following one of the worst cross-border conflicts with Pakistan, its rival, the missile test was perceived by security analysts as an important policy change for New Delhi, which sought to portray itself as an international player responsible.
The test, however, displeased NASA, which the administrator described as "unacceptable", as debris could potentially damage the International Space Station.
Critics of India's space aspirations question whether a developing country can afford to spend millions of dollars on space exploration. Vikram Sarabhai, considered the father of the country's space program, said in response that "to play a meaningful role at the national level and within the community of nations", India had to apply "advanced technologies to real problems of man and society ".
Others have pointed out the profitability of India's space exploration compared to that of the United States.
The first Indian satellite, Mars, cost less than the budget of the space film "Gravity". At $ 141 million, the cost of the current lunar mission is well below the $ 25 billion spent by the United States on its Apollo program. Last year, combined Mars and Moon missions accounted for less than US $ 408 million dedicated to building a giant statue. In a famous 1981 image, India launched its first communication satellite, APPLE, on an ox cart.
India has increased its budget spending by 11 percent this year to reach $ 1.8 billion, although they remain well below NASA's or China's spending.
According to experts, India's attention to its space program reflects the aspirations of its young population. According to Mr. Giri, scientific innovation, the invention of new technologies and the development of a highly skilled workforce could help India become a 5-economy. 000 billion dollars by 2024, a goal that the Modi government has declared wanting to achieve.