January 19, 2014



India has begun the new year on a positive note. The political arena is heating up and there is little doubt that this years's Lok Sabha polls are going to be one of the most important elections in the history of the country. Unlike previous occasions when parties used religion and caste to gain power, our netas today are taking about issues that really affect us - Narendra Modi is talking about economic development, Arvind Kejriwal is leading the crusade against corruption whereas Rahul Gandhi is concentrating on social issues. With so much media coverage around the national mandate, it is easy to forget the success stories that are coming from other fields. Here is a look at two such events that happened in the last fortnight, two positive news items that make us all proud to be Indian.
Courtesy: Business Standard
The Indigenous Cryogenic Engine: On 5th January earlier this year, scientists at the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) at Sriharikota successfully launched the GSLV - D5 Rocket which put the GSAT 8 satellite in orbit. While this is no big deal for our space scientists who have achieved this feat time and again, the fact was, with this launch India entered an elite club of nations (USA, Russia, France, China and Japan) who have mastered the use of cryogenic engines. What makes this achievement so special is that like our nuclear technology, the complete development of this rocket engine which works at extremely low temperatures was done within the country. While we are experts in the field of Polar Satellite Launch Vehicles (PSLV), having set several records including one in February last year when we launched ten satellites in a row, our performance in the field of Geo Stationary Launch Vehicle (GSLV) has been below average. However, there are indications to suggest that this is soon going to be a thing of the past.

India's tryst with cryogenic engines began in the early 1990s when we were suppose to buy this technology from the the Russians for Rs 235 crores. However under pressure from the Americans who thought that we would use it for military purposes, PM Boris Yelstin refused; instead a new agreement was signed between the two nations and Moscow gave us seven such engines for use. In 1994, when we came close to developing such liquid based fuels, the ISRO spying scandal emerged in which the then Head of Cryogenics Nambi Narayanan was falsely accused of passing on highly confidential data to two Maldivian women. The case was later squashed by the Supreme Court but the damage was already done, not only were the names of the innocent men like Narayanan and D Sasikumaran, it also delayed our march in the sphere of GSLV. In 2010, our first attempt to use the cryogenic-based fuel engine was a complete failure and three years later, the second test was called off at the last minute following a leak in the fuel tank. As such, the launch of the new GSAT with the help of the latest technology has brought cheer to the entire space community. The Moon prober (Chandrayaan), the unmanned Mars voyager (Mangalyaan) and now the success of the GSLV has reaffirmed ISRO's position as one of the top space organizations in the world, apart from making our nation one of the most advanced in the race to space. However, there is so much more to do. In the next two years, we need to launch more satellites using these new engines so that we can perfect it. While the start has been made, achieving the level of perfection in this sphere, similar to that we presently have in PSLV might take some time. The value add that cryogenic engine provides us are many. Some of these are as follows:

(1) More fire power for further space exploration: The PSLV puts a restriction on the weight of the payload that it can fire; in fact, it is good to launch satellites weighing between 1000 to 17000 kg. However, the GSATs are much heavier, some measuring up to five tonnes. In such scenarios, the cryogenic engines come handy. Moreover, with the success of Chandrayaan and Mangalyaan, we have started exploring other heavenly bodies; considering that these missions have several devices and instruments, each providing valuable information to scientists back on the Earth, their net weight is enormous; another reason why the new engines are important. And finally, when we are ready to send our premiere manned mission to the Moon, the space shuttle will for sure be powered by a GSLV working on cryogenic technology.

(2) Money Matters: Not many may know, but launching satellites and other space shuttles is a big business, involving vast sums of money. Earlier we used to generally launch our Geostationary Information Satellites - GSATs from French Guiana. Not so surprisingly, we had to shell out big money to the French authorities. The success of the indigenous cryogenic engine will change this scenario, saving millions which can be later diverted to other space programmes. At the same time, we should concentrate on developing more engines of this kind and install them in different parts of the country. In a few years, when we have achieved perfection in this, we can offer these services to nations which lack such technology for launching their own satellites. Considering that ISRO is one of the most respected space organization in the world, I guess many countries will be ready to pay for launching their heavy satellites, earning us dollars and more importantly goodwill.

(3) Matter of Pride: Space is the ultimate challenge for mankind; even the smallest of breakthrough in space technology is considered as a great feat and hence, exploring the universe is a matter of great pride for nations and its people. Nothing summarizes this more than the Space Race that took place between the US and Soviets during the Cold War. Apart from launching several satellites, our missions to the Moon and Mars have received a lot of acclaim around the world. The use of the cryogenic engine is another feather in our cap. Truly, ISRO and the numerous scientists working there who have made this happen are a source of inspiration to us all. They have truly made us proud.

Courtesy: Government of India (Archives)

India to declared polio free by the WHO: Yes! The dreaded viral disease that affected millions of our countrymen over the years is all but eradicated from India. While we are fast growing as an important destination for medical tourism, this news is particularly important because the virus was particularly widespread in rural areas and our record in rural health is bad to say the least. Once regarded as the Polio capital of the world, the last recorded case of polio in the country was from Bengal in January 2010. With no new cases detected for the past three years, the World Health Organization (WHO) is all set to declare India as a polio-free country in the next month, provided all samples pending with various laboratories are negative. As of now, there are only three other countries in the world who are affected by this virus namely Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria. In the coming years, when these countries are able to curb Polio, it will be the third disease to be eradicated by humans after Small Pox (1980) and Rinderpest (2011). We have a lot to cheer about here. India has spent over 2 billion US dollars to curb this disease. The Pulse Polio programme which was launched in 1995-96 is probably one of the biggest and most effective health initiatives in the world. Under this scheme, the government planned to immunize all children below the age of five. The challenges were many - poverty, inaccessibility, the huge man power and superstitions to name a few. With the help of celebrities like Amitabh Bachchan were roped in to convince people to get their newborns and infants to the nearest pulse polio camps. And the result is there to see. At the same time we cannot afford to drop guard. The virus may well make a comeback and it is wise to continue the immunization scheme for some more years. The government on its part is playing safe; earlier this week President Pranab Da launched the Pulse Polio 2014 scheme at the Rashtrapati Bhavan. The victory in the fight against Polio is proof that if we have the ability and the resolve to tackle any issue that we are plagued with. Jai Hind!


(1) Courtesy: Business Standard
Source: GSLV-D5 launch outs India in 'cryo club' (Link)

(2) Courtesy: Government of India (Archives)
Source: Spotlight - Pulse Polio (Link)