Tag Archives: rising technology

India’s lunar spacecraft Chandrayaan – I in a wider context

India successfully launched its first unmanned spacecraft, Chandrayaan-I, on 22 October 2008. On 14 November 2008, it entered its final operational orbit at a height of 100 km from the lunar surface. The same day, Moon Impact Probe (MIP) was released to hit the southern pole of the Moon .Much to the delight of the Indians, the Probe deposited India’s national flag on the Moon. The choice of the date was significant. 14 November is the birthday of Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister and a great supporter of science and technology.

Chandrayaan carried eleven thematically integrated scientific payloads, five from India, three from European Space Agency (ESA), two from USA and one from Bulgaria. All the experiments aimed at creating a high-resolution map of the lunar surface and the minerals beneath it. Although the mission was originally planned to last two years, it had to be aborted on 30 August 2009, once the craft lost radio contact with the earth. It however did provide valuable data while it lasted.

The most spectacular early scientific results from the mission came from the two US payloads; a mineral explorer nick-named M3; and a radar named mini-SAR. They provided first direct confirmation of presence of water in the form of ice on the Moon. The M3 paper, with Carle Pieters as the lead author, was published in Science on 24 October 2009. It was followed by the mini-SAR paper, with Paul Spudis as the first author, which appeared in the 22 December 2009 issue of Geophysical Research Letters. The Americans handsomely acknowledged the contribution of Indian space technologists. Pieters went on record declaring that “If it were not for them, we would not have been able to make the discovery”.

Like Indian Space Research Organization’s earlier missions this one was also a remote sensing satellite except that Chandrayaan-I focused on the Moon rather than the Earth. The Moon has never been imaged as closely as was done by the Chandrayaan. With its successful launch India joins a select club comprising US, Russia, Japan and China. India’s space program is extremely good value for money from even international standards. No wonder then that ISRO’s rocket launching facilities are being commercially used by others. Perhaps the best testimony to India’s space program comes from the fact that it had such high faith in its own capabilities that no need was felt to insure the Chandrayaan.

Indian public, parliament and media as well as the world at large have been unanimous or near-unanimous in hailingIndia’s foray into the outer space. India now plans to use cryogenic fuel for its rocket launch. There is already a talk about manned space flights, mission to Mars, and commercial space travel.India’s first attempt to launch an advanced communication satellite using cryogenic fuel faile on 15 April 2010)

India’s space program is the most successful of all national science initiatives. One reason for this is easy to see. In space exploration there is no room for excuses or rationalizations. The difference between success and failure is obvious. Either a satellite remains in orbit or falls down. The principles and procedures that have been developed in space management need to be carefully studied with a view to examining the possibility of their wider application in India’s other initiatives in science and technology.

Rising and flat technologies

Without diminishing the credit due to India, its space program needs to be examined in a wider context for purposes of insight. Let us make a distinction between a rising technology and a flat technology. As the name suggests a rising technology is one which is currently undergoing rapid phases of development while a flat technology is one which has been more or less standardized. Clearly, a rising technology of today is a flat technology of tomorrow.

USA focuses its attention on the rising technologies of the day. Once they are standardized, it parcels them off to lesser countries, e. g. in car manufacture. (This is certainly not a good philosophy. In addition to focus on rising tech, production of wealth through flat techs is good for a country’s economy and mindset.)

If lunar missions now have been left to the likes of Japan,China and India, it is because the missions now constitute standard technologies. If colonization and mining of celestial bodies become a possibility, you would see the initiative being grabbed back by US and to a lesser extent by ESA.

Profit motive

It is interesting that when Mount Everest is climbed, no justification is asked for or proffered. Yet in the case of a technological mission some profit should be promised. May be this is because of the heavy costs involved.

It has been proposed that the Moon itself can be colonized and used as a launching pad for farther colonies. The India’s new space chairman has suggested that the tunnels made on the moon by lava can be used for housing humans, and probably their pets also. If this is escapism, there is another suggestion that the Moon be asked to meet Earth’s energy and resource need. As is well known the lunar soil contains vast amounts of helium 3, an isotope of helium. There are experts who would  like  this helium to be dug up and brought to earth for use as a raw material for fusion reactions. It has been suggested that water be brought from Moon to the Earth for consumption here. To me, the whole idea of bringing resources from the Moon to the Earth is an exceptionally stupid one and needs to be squashed right away. I shall however support the move to park all the cars on the Moon and utilize Earth’s surface in a more constructive manner.

I mention this to encourage you to formulate your own views on the subject.

US role in pre-history of India’s space program

India was introduced to the new field of satellites as part of the International Geophysical Year 1957-58 program. Naini Tal Observatory in the Himalayas was chosen as one of the 12 field stations equipped by the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory with a Baker-Nunn camera for optical tracking of the artificial satellites. The project continued till 1976. During the first two years, an observer from SAO worked with the Naini Tal staff. The contacts during IGY led to India’s participation in the US Satellite Instructional Television Experiment. After completion of the contractual one-year period, India took the help of commercial satellites and then developed its own satellite network.

In 1963, India established Equatorial Rocket Station at Thumba, near Trivandrum, in South India. The site was chosen because it is located just half a degree south of the magnetic equator. ISRO was established in 1969, and India’s first satellite named Aryabhata after the celebrated 6th century astronomer, was launched in 1976.


What would limit India’s space ambitions is not technology or finance but manpower. Globalization has encouraged well-trained Indian young men and women to take up petty jobbery, beneath their intellect and skills, for the sake of a dollar pay packet which though small in absolute terms still translates into a neat bundle in Indian rupees.

Fortuitously  Chandrayaan’s launch has coincided with the onset of world-wide financial and economic crises. It is as well that the quantification of financial instruments has fallen into disrepute and the processes of globalization received a setback.  Their glamour and pelf were acting as a brain sink, to the detriment of science. If Lehman Brothers was to be the resting place for Indian Institute of Technology-imparted engineering skills, it is good that it has closed down.

India’s quest for water on Moon

The impact probe MIP which deposited Indian national flag on the Moon also carried a scientific payload, nick-named CHACE, comprising a mass spectrometer. During the 25 minutes of fall on to the lunar surface, CHACE obtained data confirming the presence of water vapour in  the Moon’s atmosphere on the sunlit side. A team of Indian scientists sent their paper to Science in December 2008, which however rejected it in March 2009. The Indian authors then sent the paper to Nature in April 2009, which also rejected it, in July 2009. Finally, in November 2009, the paper, with R. Sridharan as the first author was sent to a lesser journal Space and Planetary Science which published it on 6 March 2010.In the mean time both the US publications, from the M3 and mini-SAT teams, had already appeared, as already noted.

It is significant that the Indian authors chose to try their luck in international journals like Science and Nature rather than quickly publish their findings in an Indian journal. //

Rising’ and ‘flat’ technologies: Facets of innovation(2004)

Discussion Meeting on

‘Rising’ and ‘flat’ technologies: Facets of innovation

NISTADS, Pusa Gate, New Delhi 21 February 2004


Welcome address

Rajesh Kochhar

Director NISTADS

You would have noticed that the epithets ‘rising’ and ‘flat’ have been put in

inverted commas. Let me begin by defining them. A rising technology is one which is

currently in a rapid phase of development. A flat technology is one that has more or

less been standardized and therefore admits of only incremental improvements. Of

course, a rising technology in course of time will become flat. Reverse flow is also

possible. Television sets using cathode ray tube constitute a flat technology; but TVs

using light emitting diodes are now a rapidly developing field. (Flat TVs are a rising


USA tends to drive its economy through rising technologies of the day, parcelling

out manufacturing based on flat technologies to lesser countries. These countries in

turn tend to keep the upper end of the flat tech to themselves and pass on the lower end

down the line. From USA to Japan to Malaysia and China illustrates this sequence.

There are two problems with the term innovation. First, it is an umbrella term

covering a wide variety of phenomena. Invention of World Wide Web is an innovation;

Amul’s selling a pizza at 20 rupees, or the free gift of a plastic bucket with a kilogramme

of detergent powder, is also an innovation. We need to distinguish between innovations

of different orders (or coin more precise terms). Secondly, we tend to glamorize some

types of innovations and over-celebrate success and that too selectively ( Sabeer

Bhatia’s hotmail, but not fellow Asian Jerry Yang’s Yahoo..). History of ideas honours

those who thought of it first. History of economics tells us that they were not necessarily

the ones who made commercial success of it. Windows is not the first operating system

nor Google the first search engine. Both have chequered prehistory. Interestingly

pioneering search engines of the early 1990s carried names such as Archie, Veronica,

and Jughead; they were developed by young university students just past the comicsreading


The whole world, India included, is being overwhelmed by developments in

information technology. Personally speaking, I am rather happy with the politicized

backlash in USA against outsourcing. There are a number of reasons for this. First, my

sympathies lie with those Americans who are losing their jobs. It is noteworthy that in

the past when manufacturing jobs were exported, manufacturing companies themselves

closed down. But now outsourcing is adding to the profitability of the companies. What

use is economic prosperity if it robs the citizens of their sense of worthiness? Secondly,

the backlash should make India sit up and prepare to flight it out to protect its turf. So

far India’s success in IT has come in spite of India. Time has come for India to defend

its advantage. Finally, and more basically, US protectionism should trigger a debate on

the ethics, philosophy and ideology of globalization. Till date, enforcement of

globalization seems to have been its own legitimation. Globalization should have a

global perspective.


India is encouraged to aim at a bigger and bigger piece of the world IT cake.

India’s destiny however does not lie in doing petty jobbery on the periphery of IT. India’s

destiny lies in becoming world’s hub for manufacture of goods based on the high-skill

end of flat technologies. In the high-skill area India at present holds a distinct

advantage over China.

Catchment area for IT enabled services is restricted essentially to second generation

learners. There is a vast number of Indians who though literate and capable

are not comfortable with English. Their skills and talents need to be employed. Even if

the whole worlds’ economy were driven by knowledge, people will still need to eat food,

wear clothes and shoes, drive cars and fall sick. In a few years’ time information and

communication technologies will themselves become flat. Future belongs to those who

integrate ICT into their public life, governance and economy.

During the past half a century or more India has perfected the art of shoddiness

in industrial and agricultural production. Globalization has rendered this shoddiness

untenable. Either Indian manufacturing should upgrade and become globally

competitive. Or, it should collapse and cease. There are indications that both these

phenomena are already at work. (Of the 500 companies, top 100 have increased their

sales and profits, while the bottom 100 have gone into red.)


To become the high-skill manufacturing hub, India should encourage innovation

of lower orders which is unglamourous but profitable. Pfizer has raked in huge profits

from its invention of the Viagra molecule. But if a company were to corner world market

in the lowly aspirin, it will become a blue chip company. If Scotland could persuade the

whole world to drink Scotch whisky, it will be the richest country in the world. Its all

innovative engines will then probably be focused on bottling.


How do we learn a language? We first understand a sentence in its entirety.

Next, we break it into parts (known in grammar as parsing) and reassemble these parts

to recover the sentence. We then take these parts and combine them differently to

create new sentences. We can even coin new words and simplify rules of grammar.

To do creative writing, one must know the grammar and have the vocabulary. You

cannot simply teach a person the alphabet and ask him to go ahead and compose a



Innovation is possible only in an atmosphere of extant activity. We have already

remarked on the prehistories of Windows and Google. Similarly, one must have a

culture of manufacturing, even reverse engineering, to be able to move up the value

ladder. (Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and India’s own pharmaceutical and automobile

sectors are examples of this). There is need to appreciate that individuals are not

innovative; systems are. All human beings are instinctively creative. It is not sufficient

for a social system to have in its midst manifestly creative people. The system must

also be mentally and materially in a position to encourage, recognize and most

importantly benefit from individual inventiveness as well as floating knowledge.


So far we have dealt with what we may call healthy innovation. We must also take note

of some unhealthy trends.I was once given what was supposed to be a five-rupee coin.

It was in fact two half-rupee coins welded together. Economics of the exercise is

interesting. Inputs cost one rupee: add another 25 paise for welding. The product sells

for five rupees , giving the innovator a profit of as much as 300 %.Profit margins may

be tempting but methods employed are not acceptable. category of unhealthy

innovation. There are othe , more serious , examples from across the world. Chinese

manufacturing units are competing among themselves to bag contracts from companies

like Wal-Mart. Competitiveness is achieved by paying exploitatively low wages and

hiring child labour. Many multi-national companies have been indulging in practices in

their units in poor countries which they dare not attempt in their own.//