India and ISRO

The Indian Space Research Organization, India’s very own space program, has always proven the reliability of its spacecraft (PSLV has never had a failure) and scientific finesse (by pulling off the famous Mangalyaan mission on a shoestring budget). However, there is one area where they seem to be severely crippled, a matter that must be seen to at the soonest if the space program is to proceed in the right direction.

ISRO‘s feats have been extraordinary, but unfortunately they are not involving the public nearly as much as they should. It starts from the simplest of matters. It is not even possible to physically (or legally at least) view the launch of any rocket, unless you are part of the press. The press, you say. Surely they are capable of broadcasting the launches in a proper manner. Not really. All we get on the telly is grainy 1980s-esque footage on Doordarshan, and in many cases, not even live.

Next comes the sub-par ISRO website. I have to concede that it is currently miles ahead of what it used to be, but there is still scope for improvement. First off, they need to constantly update their launch schedule. The dates of launch are almost never accurate and do not give any details on launch timings. If they fix this and provide timely updates about their launches, it could go hand in hand with making launches available for public viewing. Some of the areas of the website that have improved are quality weather maps from the satellite data and some interactive diagrams and explanations about the launch vehicles. However the final verdict is still that there is scope for improvement in that regard.

I say all this understanding that the scientists, engineers, technicians and programmers at ISRO earn only a fraction of their counterparts worldwide. Yet, these are some simple solutions which don’t require much of the innovation that these people do on a daily basis. By improving the public opinion and outreach of the country’s space program, ISRO can plays its hand more confidently when asking for a higher cut of the federal revenue.

Starting off, all launches should be made available for the public to watch, and the security must be competent enough to cope with this. With Sriharikota being close to large cities like Chennai and Bangalore, ISRO could generate massive public interest by allowing public viewing. Next up, ISRO can take a cue from SpaceX regarding the way they broadcast their launches. There’s an elegant launch timeline and live updated telemetry and data for every launch of theirs, all accompanied by beautiful 1080p video. Certainly ISRO is capable of doing at least a fraction of that.

A larger step would be to supplement the above with extensive school programs. The real way to captivate India’s youth into the magic of the cosmos is to grab all those primary school kids claiming they want to be astronauts, and kindling their desires by showing them real spaceflight as it happens. We have a massive population of young Indians interested in the beauties of orbital mechanics, and it would be a shame to ship them over to NASA.

I understand this article may seem controversial, but I believe that just pushing a little bit more could surely highlight the brilliant science ISRO is doing. We all need to play our part in bringing India to the forefront of space exploration. Jai Hind!

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