ISRO’s 100th mission: It is not a century

The Indian Space Research Organisation carried out its 100th space mission with the successful launch of the PSLV-C21 rocket from Satish Dhawan Space Centre at Sriharikotta on September 9, 2012. The description ‘100th mission’ may be a misnomer as the count is a total of 62 satellite missions and 37 launch vehicle missions plus a space capsule recovery experiment. (The launching of the vehicle and placing of a satellite in orbit are treated as separate missions by ISRO.) The launch vehicles sometimes carried more than one satellite, as was the case on Sunday when PSLV-C12 carried Japanese as well as a French satellite.

Launchpad at Sriharikotta

Rocket Launchpad at Satish Dhawan Space Centre, Sriharikotta, India

For the French, there may be some irony. They have turned to India for launch of their 712-kg earth observation satellite SPOT-6 using a launch vehicle, the technology for which was originally developed by France. India had obtained the liquid propulsion technology used in French ‘Viking’ engine as per an agreement in the seventies. The crucial second and fourth stages of PSLV are powered by modified engines using the French technology.

ISRO’s achievement was in fabricating many of the components indigenously over the years and developing a few hundred technologies that could add value. This helped to bring down the costs, finally attracting the French to use India’s launch vehicle for its satellite. It is the first time that a French satellite is being launched from India while several Indian satellites have been launched from French Guiana (where European Space Agency’s primary launch site is located).

ISRO has been taking the beaten path in the development of rocket technology instead of looking for innovative technology. The decision to borrow cryogenic technology, instead of developing it on its own, turned out to be disastrous as the indigenous version of the Russian cryogenic technology is yet to take off. The aim was to develop indigenous cryogenic engine modeled on the Russian cryogenic module with similar performance parameters.

The full technology transfer did not take place due to American pressure on Russia and ISRO’s attempt to fabricate it based on the design it had obtained from the Russian space agency ran into problems and repeated test failures. It would now be an uphill task for ISRO to complete the development and modify it for future needs.

As such, the 100th mission marks stagnation in space technology development rather than a great achievement. India may have to revamp its technology development plans if it is to keep pace.

Actor Sheila’s entry into politics in limbo

Actress Sheela’s entry into Congress politics so far is a non-starter. This is not surprising to anyone who knows Congress politics and groupism in the State.

Congress leaders in the State would not countenance lateral entry of leaders into the party that would affect their chances. The only one they would willingly or grudgingly tolerate is Rahul Gandhi. Recall the bitterness that the entry of Shashi Tharoor generated in the State unit despite the credentials he presented and the support of the high command.

Sheela in film Chemmeen

Actor Sheela in film Chemmeen

Sheela went to none other than Defence Minister A. K. Antony, apparently thinking that he is her best bet. Mr. Antony and his wife warmly received her but cold-shouldered her proposal referring her to KPCC president Ramesh Chennithala. Can Ramesh Chennithala afford to spare her a Rajya Sabha when all the UDF constituents are warring for seats? Can he even think of fielding her in the next elections?

And can she win an election from Kerala? That she was the heartthrob of the older generation on the silver screen is not sufficient for her to get electoral support in Kerala. Even the evergreen hero Prem Nazir could not do that in his heydays, that too despite being sponsored by K. Karunakaran. If one should know the gravity of his failure, remember that Karunakaran was one who had managed to make non-entities like A. Charles and M. R. Raghuchandra Bal to win elections and get foothold in the party.

The politics of green politicians in Kerala

The green brigade in the UDF in Kerala is striking a distinct position compared to rest of the members of the Assembly in the Front. They have also started using the new media for their campaign.  (T. N. Pratapan, V. D. Satheesan, V. T. Balram and Hibi Eden (Congress) K. M. Shaji  (Muslim League )and  M. V. Sreeyams Kumar (SJD) are blogging at GreenThoughtsKerala)

Title image of blog of the MLAs

Title image of blog by V. D. Satheesan, T. N. Pratapan, M. V. Sreeyams Kumar, V. T. Balram, K. M. Shaji and Hibi Eden

The scenario in the Assembly has been changing over the past decade with more members coming forward to propound the cause of environment. The Legislative Committee on Environment has over the years produced well-studied reports. Two decades ago, K. V. Surendranath of CPI was the only member campaigning for environmental causes. On the other side people like Seethi Haji (IUML) asked how it rained at sea if forests were required for precipitation.  Now, there are several members both in the ruling and Opposition fronts wanting to protect the environment. They include Opposition Leader V. S. Achuthanandan who once spoke against environmentalists.

However, a question would arise as to how deep their commitments are.  Are they simply moving with the tide or playing politics? It is notable that almost all members of the green brigade are people who had missed out on ministerial positions. They have an axe to grind against Chief Minister Oommen Chandy and other UDF leaders.  And they know that fighting corruption from within a la Achuthanandan has a market. Yet, that does not make the causes they are expounding less important.

Yes, they are indeed playing politics and it is notable that Mr. Chandy and industries Minister P. K. Kunhalikutty are in the defensive.  Mr. Chandy even said that they are doing the campaign because they are sincere.  May be, people can trust them more than Mr. Achuthanandan who is also expounding the same causes.

If they are sincere, they will persist. Mr. Achuthanandan forgot many of the causes he expounded when he came to power. The litmus test for green politicians of UDF too would be what they do when they come to power.

Update: Well, we did not have to wait until they come to power to know how steadfast they would be on their views. The green politicians are now supporting tourism projects such as that proposed in Nelliyampathy disregarding questions whether the land proposed to be used for such projects are forests or environmentally fragile areas. They do say that they changed their stand because Chief Minister Oommen Chandy has conceded their demands including environmental impact assessment of all projects under Emerging Kerala initiative.