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Modi turns tragic space loss into a moment of scientific triumph

There was a sense of anticipation and then heightened expectation as the coffee flowed.

By Bikram Vohra

Published: Sat 7 Sep 2019, 9:45 PM

Last updated: Sat 7 Sep 2019, 11:46 PM

A glitch is not a failure. It happens. Thing is you go back to the drawing board and give it a second shot. Maybe ten tries. Living outside India our patriotism tends to have an extra fervour so we were all up at night watching the moon excursion of the Chandrayaan 2's lander. or so we hoped.
There was a sense of anticipation and then heightened expectation as the coffee flowed.
And when Vikram let go the surly bonds of Orbiter with rover (Pragyan) on board for the final lap we applauded along with the rows of scientists at the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro). This was the tricolour at its best.
When inside 15 minutes, the atmosphere in the telecast of the mission control hubbub changed palpably and concern and confusion dripped from a hundred-odd faces miles away from Dubai to Denver, we felt that jolt of reality. Something had gone wrong.
As my grown-up, married daughters began to softly choke on emotion (I felt that wet lump, too), the chairman of Isro, the unassuming genius K Sivan,  came on the internal sound system and told his team what happened and then we watched the prime minister leave, stoic and solemn. We guessed by the expressions that Vikram had gone renegade.
Despite an incredibly hectic schedule, returning from Vladivostok at 4am on Friday, going in for a telecom conversation with Mongolia then tucking in a full day of work and fetching up at Isro for the final phase, the Indian prime minister was alert and awake. Someone should tell us what diet he is on. You don't have to love him but when he gets it right he gets it so right it deserves admiration.
Four hours later, while India slept, Modi was back at Isro chinning up the disconsolate Isro scientists who had pulled an all nighter and when he gave his 56-inch chest to Chairman Sivan to lean on in an impulsive gesture of warmth and belief that went on for a minute, he literally hugged the whole Modi nation and deflected so beautifully the sense of dismay, literally turning a moment of great sadness into one of tangible  hope.there will be a tomorrow and Orbiter is still up there and will be for a year, circling the moon. We have not failed so let's not go there.
For in that gesture buoyed by a spontaneous speech so gung ho in its texture it could have been a do or die military mission Narender Modi not only acted like a Prime Minister he was a leader. His demeanour stopped the 'feel lousy, feel embarrassed' tide and turned it into one of pride that we got so far. Others, too, have fallen at the gate, then stood tall and made 'to strive, to seek and not to yield' more than a mantra, a way of life. Remember the Challenger disaster in 1968. A year later Apollo 12 on the gantry hit by lightning. In 1971, Suyuz 11 crew dying from a faulty valve issue. Then the 2003 Columbia disintegrating with the Indian origin astronaut Kalpana Chawla on board. Dozens of incidents, big and small, in this incredible called Space exploration.
And Modi got it right. It is still a work in progress and we are on the cutting-edge. We not only went up, we stayed up for six weeks and we got into a lunar orbit and everything worked well till the last seconds. Maybe next time or the time after or even after that we will get that right and there will, in our lifetimes, be an Indian flag on the moon.
For now, learn the lessons for there are many to be learnt and one of them is style and class when things do not go right. And love him or not, Modi taught us well this morning.

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