With barely 24 hours to go for India’s maiden lunar mission, it is the most nerve raking period for people behind this Herculean task. The modified PSLV is all set to lift of from Sriharikota early tomorrow morning. If all goes according to plan, India will become the third Asian country to have put a satellite into a lunar orbit after Japan and China — which managed the feat just last year.

India has big future plans as well; cabinet has given the green signal for the Chandrayaan 2 mission in 2011, just three years from now. If that was not enough, current plan indicates a manned space mission in 2014 followed by a manned lunar mission in 2020 – which happens to be four years before China’s 2024 deadline. India also seems to be better placed than China as far as the moolah spent on these missions is concerned. The Chandrayaan -1 mission for example, with a budget of $86 million cost only half as much as China’s Chang’e 1 mission.

A space mission and that too a lunar mission is not just about sending a satellite across to the moon and the scientific intent it has. It is also a matter of national pride for most Indians who sit glued to their television screens during these launches. It is expected to be no different tomorrow.

However, experts point out that India’s mission is not just about chest-thumping or an egoistic attempt to increase its clout in the India dominated sub continent. India has as many as 11 communication satellites of its own, which the country has used to its benefit. The INSAT series of satellites have been instrumental in bringing quality education to remote villages in the heart of rural India. This is apart from the IRS, which has helped farmers indirectly for crop yield modeling.

Four decades ago, when the US and Russia were embroiled in a bitter space-race for reaching the moon , sleeping giants India and China were barely a blip on the radar. No one could have envisaged that these countries will in just 40 years start to dramatically shift the highly polarized world economy eastwards.

While the US still is the indisputable superpower, India and especially China has been seeing dramatic growth over the past few decades. While India has not ruffled half as many feathers as China has, it has had its share of limelight — with the Chandrayaan mission being one of the highly decorated feathers on the proverbial cap.

Coming back to the Chandrayaan -1 mission, while most have lauded the efforts by the scientists and engineers behind this mission, there are some others who have voiced their resentment against a mission of this nature; mainly questioning the rationale behind spending colossal amounts of money when the country can spend this amount on “better” things. These include ensuring basic necessities for the country’s poverty stricken masses and other humanitarian needs. While many see a possible “space race” with China in harnessing the lunar mineral wealth, others point towards an arms race claiming that rockets used for firing satellites can also be used for nuclear warheads.

Whatever the results, tomorrow will be a red-letter day for the Indian space program. When the PSLV lifts off from Siharikota with the Chandrayaan -1 on-board, it also carries with it the aspirations of a billion plus population, the hard work of thousands of scientists who managed to finish the project well within the deadline and not to mention, the voice of an emerging economy which is raring to go places.

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