Chandrayaan-2 marks yet another technological and scientific leap forward in the growing number of space science missions by India. The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) in its early days did have a major space science focus, given that its inception was led by a space scientist Prof. Sarabhai. However, as ISRO achieved scale and a range of capabilities, its focus was rightly utilized in delivering missions to address the needs of the society through space-based services.
The renewed interest in space science over the last decade starting with Chandrayaan-1, Mangalyaan, Astrosat and a pipeline of other science-focused missions by India provides an opportunity for the larger scientific community in the country to develop instruments and payloads which can add to India’s contribution to the global understanding of the workings of planetary bodies.
The simplest possible explanation of the difference between Chandrayaan-1 and Chandrayaan-2 is that of having to only observe at distance versus the ability to touch and feel.
The success of Chandrayaan-2 will establish the capability for the first time to safely deliver an object to the surface of an interplanetary body by the country which can then be used to take up more complex missions to the surface of other planets such as Mars. The most recent attempt to land on the Moon was by Israel which unfortunately failed at the final moment due to a component failure. With India being the only country to enter the orbit of Mars successfully in its first attempt, success with Chandrayaan-2 will further cement India as a mature space power.
Having the ability to build a rover which operates successfully on the lunar surface proves the ability to build robotic platforms which can operate in extremely complex environments. There can be several applications of these building blocks in nuclear, toxic industrial and other such complex operating environments which can use the foundations of the technologies established through such missions.
Alongside the novelty and the scientific feat, one must not forget the soft power of missions like Chandrayaan-2 to spark unparalleled nationwide interest in science and technology among young people. India’s mission to Mars was one of the examples of how a space mission can inspire millions of students.