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I'm an Explorer, Engineer, Writer, Public Speaker, and Entrepreneur. I write about exploration, travel, and science. 

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Wednesday
May302012

Indian Summer

I’m going to India for the summer to write about the Indian space program. When I tell people that, most first say something like, “wait, India has a space program?”

(Actually the first response I got was: “wait, don’t they poop in the streets there?”)

Yes. Yes, they do have a space program (I can’t comment on the latter… yet). India plans to become the fourth nation on Earth to send a human being into space and they’re about four years away from doing so (after Russia—which was the Soviet Union at the time—the U.S., and China). Their space efforts in 2012 might be akin to the American space program of 1957, four years before Alan Shepherd became the first American in space. Except, NASA wasn’t even founded until 1958. And the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) has been around since 1969.

So… in no particular order, three more questions might come to mind: 1) what have they been up to since then, 2) why are they sending a person into space now and 3) why the hell do I want to go there in the summer to write about it?

1)    Since 1969, the ISRO has mostly been working on some really cool earth observation and science missions, including a lunar orbiter, Earth satellites that have helped identify fresh groundwater locations for local communities and aided in coordinating anti-malaria programs.

2)    I don’t know. In a still-developing country with around 450 million people living in horrible poverty (living on ~$1/day... that's one and a half times the population of the U.S.), one can make a pretty convincing case that spending billions to send a human into space might not be the best way to dish out the dough, even if the manned space program there is only a fraction of the total space budget (~US$1.32 billion), which is less than 1% of India's GDP. But they’re committed to making it happen—to learn how to keep people alive in space, spread humanity into the stars to ensure our long-term survival, reap future economic benefits from the space frontier, improve quality of life by investing in promising technology development, achieve national acclaim, and inspire future generations to keep pushing limits of science and technology while making better lives for themselves. At least that’s what I’m guessing. I plan to find out.  

3)    India is an up-and-coming space power, already playing a major geopolitical role and poised to play an even bigger one in the coming world with its 1.2 billion people, soaring population rates and burgeoning status as a high-tech powerhouse. Plus, I’m a huge space nerd and, when you’ve spent the 7 of the last 8 summers living in Houston, Texas, how bad can a hot and humid summer Indian monsoon season be?

So, India it is. I leave in one week. 

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