By Dennis D. McDonald
I’ve been tracking the progress of India’s Chandrayaan-1 lunar mission since its launch on October 22. Someone asked my why I care about the mission given that “we’ve already been to the moon.” Here’s why.
I’ve been interested in space travel ever since I was a kid. I read every book my public library had about space travel, rockets, astronomy, and the moon. In our home we had a small library of astronomy books as well, including a gorgeous book of lunar photographs that I looked at repeatedly to supplement my dad’s backyard night-time telescope viewing sessions.
In those days space travel WAS science fiction. As time progressed and the U.S. and Soviet space programs advanced, things moved outside of the realm of science fiction into science fact. Orbital fights became commonplace. Deep space and planetary exploration missions frequently captured the public’s imagination. Members of my own family became involved in NASA sponsored and international research based on satellite observations of the Earth.
Still, I have always harbored the nagging feeling that space exploration needs to be an international activity. The International Space Station is a step in the right direction, as were early U.S.-Soviet joint missions.
The Chandrayaan-1 mission is another example of a cooperative mission with instrument packages and ground based resources provided by multiple countries.
I like the fact that other countries are taking the lead in complex space missions. There will always be important scientific questions to address. Spreading scientific and financial responsibility through collaborative efforts is a good thing and should be encouraged. Plus, despite multiple visits to the Lunar surface, we’ve only “scratched the surface” when it comes to understanding what makes the moon tick.
It reminds me of those science fiction films that were made when I was a kid. Before the U.S. and Soviet space rivalry took hold, there was a time when space exporation was frequenly presented as an international effort involving the United Nations and scientists from around the globe. “Cold War” era films such as “Destination Moon” may have pitted US capitalism against the Red Menace, but Japanese science fiction films often included United Nations scientists as having leadership positions in protecting the world against invaders from space. I even remember science fictions films where England was presented as a pioneer in space travel.
This is why I think it unfortunate that some of our major efforts, such as re-visiting the moon, and traveling to Mars, are not being jointly planned by all the Earth’s space-faring nations. I would prefer to see a mission to Mars, for example, as a truly international effort that involved the U.S., Russia, the Europen Space agency, Japan, India, and China. Such horrendously expensive — and dangerous — undertakings should be collaborative and not examples of nationalistic chauvinism or rivalry.
So I’m pleased at the sophistication and collaboration involved in the Chandrayaan-1 mission. The spacecraft carries scientific instruments from India and from universities and laboratories of the European Space Agency, the US, and Bulgaria.
This is the way peaceful space exploration should be conducted.
Copyright (c) 2008 by Dennis D. McDonald