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Keynote 2014

"Space Technology - for Humankind"


Padma Vibhushan Er. Gopalan Madhavan Nair

Guest of Honour

Space is the next frontier for human endeavours. Pioneering efforts by countries like USA, Russia, Europe, China, Japan and India have enabled men to travel beyond the limits of gravity. Acquisition of associated knowledge and experience, touching cutting edge of technologies have benefited in improving the quality of life on earth.

From time immemorial, the quest for exploring what is beyond has led to adventurous missions and unravelling the mysteries of nature whether it is in finding the resources deep under the sea,exploring new continents ,cracking the atom genomic sequence etc. It is the same spirit which has led to landing of man on the moon or sending probes to Venus or Saturn.

Ancient Indian history reveals that the Rishies had intense insight into the planets stellar constellations and their movements. The definitions of celestial objects, the identification of zodiac signs etc are precise. The evolution of astrology had strength in the observations and analytical skill of the Rishis as reflected in Vedic texts. Many such observations in astrology matches well with the modern astronomical finding based on observations through sophisticated instruments.

It is to be noted, that nearly one thousand years before Galileo, who invented the telescope, Aryabhatta had evolved an accurate definition of the solar system, planetary motion, but also established that earth is moving around the Sun and the Moon is a satellite of Earth. The trajectories, the periodicity, the eclipses etc are matching well with the latest computations.

The telescopes have improved the observation capabilities and has contributed significantly to the advancement of modern astronomy but it is the development of rockets which had revolutionized it. The ground based observations are blurred by the presence of atmosphere and rockets enabled powerful instruments to be taken up beyond the atmosphere to have a clear view of the celestial bodies.

History of rockets can be traced to 6th century AD when Chinese had an elementary version used as part of fireworks. But later in1782 Tippusulthan in India deployed rockets as a weapon to fight with the British Army in Srirangapattinam. From there it found its way to Europe. Early 20th century has seen the development of rocket systems in amore professional way in Russia and America. Oberth in USA and Tsolstvisky in USSR had evolved the scientific principles of rocket engines and propellants. Much earlier to this Joulsverner had predicted the possibility of space travel using rocket engines.

It was the demands of war machinery that had driven the development of rocket systems to a level of perfection. The V2 rockets developed by Germans were a nightmare for the allied forces. After the world war the rocket technologists were grabbed by the USA on one side and USSR on the other side. The greed for military supremacy had led to fierce competition between the superpowers. Several powerful rocket systems were developed as part of the missile systems. A manmade object can be placed as an artificial satellite around earth was demonstrated by Russia with the launch of Sputnic on 4th Oct. 1958. This was soon followed by USA through the launch of Gemini capsule. Manned missions around the earth and later the landing of man on the Moon, were major the developments.

In the developed countries the missile systems developed were re configured to place the satellites around the earth or send probes to the outermost regions of solar system and beyond. These satellites carrying sophisticated instruments became powerful tools for exploring outer space.

Europe and China followed soon. Japan with its cooperation with USA also embarked on similar developments. Whereas India is the only country which embarked on development of space programme as a civilian programme. The visionary leader Dr. Vikram Sarabhai had not only seen the advantage of space technology but also the application of such advanced technology for the benefit of common man. Though the Indian space programme had started 20yrs later, it has emerged as one of the most powerful one globally. Without much of the external help India has achieved self reliance by mastering the technologies for building powerful rockets, satellites for earth observation scientific experiments and communication purposes. These cutting edge of technologies developed indigenously are comparable to those possessed by the developed countries. Thus India has emerged as a major space faring nations globally.

Uniqueness of the Indian space programme is that it is able to use the space based platforms for implementing various applications, which touches the day to day life of the common man. Images from the earth observation satellites are extensively used for management of natural resources like land, water, forest, fisheries, etc. Also these images help in weather prediction, climate change studies and assessment of damages due to flood, earthquake and tsunami. Communication through the geostationary satellites is the most effective one in reaching out to remote far flung places in India. The direct to home television services have revolutionised the entertainment and much needed emergency communication to remote and inaccessible places are ensured through the Satelites which is boon to disaster management. The satellite remote connectivity is effectively utilised to take expert class rooms to remote villages through tele education programme. Much needed specialised medical services are made available to remote villages through telemedicine programme implemented in India. Through these application programmes the effectiveness of utilising the space based assets to benefit the common man has been demonstrated.

With powerful rockets, the space exploration has really taken to wings. The cold war era has seen the race for the Moon. The Americans landed on Moon and brought back samples in 1968 where as Russians concentrated on robotic exploration and brought back moon rocks. Satellites were sent to explore Mars, Venus, Jupiter and many asteroids. Powerful telescopes like Chandra observatory were placed in earth orbits to map the celestial objects. The knowledge and understanding gained on the evolution of the universe galaxies and stellar systems were phenominal. The feasibility of habitats in space has been established through MIR of Russia and the international space station. Human travel to outer space and Moon had been achieved through Appolo, Soyus and Space shuttle missions.

The spin off from space technologies is seen in many areas such as Medical diagnosis, Observation, Synthesis of complex molecules etc. has been enabled through technological breakthroughs in space. Exploration of outer space, planetary system and the universe will enhance the knowledge base and enable humankind to look for new sources for natural resources and ultimately for an alternate habitat for humans.

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