Isro rocks on The Dark Side of the Moon
The lander may have fallen barely short but it had done enough already to light up the dark side of the moon.
Okay here's a quick confession before I begin. I have had long-standing rancour for cricket and absolutely loathe how it hijacks the collective consciousness of Indians, bringing life to a virtual standstill every single time the so-called men in blue take on another team on the pitch.
So, when it came to our entertainment choices, last Saturday was pretty special for us Indians. For a country of 1.2 billion people that's also sold on religious politics, Bollywood and a heady dose of faith especially in recent times, we stayed up all night to watch, dissect and celebrate, of all things, a historic lunar mission by India's space agency Isro. Whatever happened to that mission, now of course on everyone's lips and mobiles, is secondary and I will come to that later but the fact that we Indians stayed awoke and excited a whole weekend schmoozing astrophysics and rocket science, for me, was the biggest success the mission and the Isro scientists achieved.
Come to think of it, it's the same Indians who just last week needed a moonwalk parody, now a viral video covered even by Western media, to draw the attention of authorities in Bengaluru to get potholes of a road fixed. And that same week alone, a bunch of us joyously trumpeted how India's homegrown (but misplaced) homogenising drive reached a Frankfurt food festival forcing beef curry out of the menu. Yet all of a sudden and one fine night, we are all on the same page, gawping at the moon, beyond our faith and other human divides, hoping India's historic unmanned mission to the moon is a success. Fascinating? Isn't? That's what I thought as I joined millions in charting the progress of Chandrayaan 2, India's second lunar exploration mission comprising a lunar orbiter, the Vikram lander, and the Pragyan lunar rover.
Sadly it didn't quite end up the way we had all hoped for with Vikram falling out of contact, shortly before touchdown - just 2.1km away from the lunar surface in the wee hours of Saturday. Yet we burst into a collective celebration hailing what would have made India only the fourth country after US, Russia, and China to make a soft landing on the unknown side of the earth's only natural satellite. When the media asked the Isro boss K Sivan, the son of a farmer and now everyone's darling in India especially after receiving that big sized hug from Prime Minister Narendra Modi on camera, he said "90-95 per cent of the Chandrayaan-2 mission objectives have been achieved." But for a nation forever devoid of a real protagonist of global standing and forever desperate to crown anyone and everyone a hero, there couldn't have been a bigger success. For a change and rightly so, cricket, politics, Bollywood, India's struggling economy could take the second row for the first bench belonged to Sivan and his band of scientists at Isro, India's own Nasa.
The lander may have fallen barely short but it had done enough already to light up the dark side of the moon. After all, all manned and unmanned soft landings had taken place on the near side of the moon but it wasn't until this January when China's Chang'e 4 spacecraft made the first landing on the far side - the hemisphere of the moon that always faces away from earth. On Saturday, an Indian mission was almost there, making the dark side of the moon cool again, cheekily four and half decades after my favourite band brought out an album of the same name.
A coming of age concept album, The Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd has many themes that explore pain, conflict, greed, time, death, and even mental illness, the latter partly inspired by the deteriorating health of founding member Syd Barrett. But India's Chandrayaan 2 just gave the phrase the cult status even Barrett and his bandmates couldn't. That too is one of Chandrayaan 2's hidden success!