The moon and TeamIndus: Why it is important for private companies to participate in India's space missions

Space Missions are the cutting edge of engineering and are incredibly difficult and are expensive. So why bother?

Why does TeamIndus want to go to the Moon? Mankind has already been there, after all. Why should India do what was done many decades ago by the United States and USSR? In any case, why is a private company stepping into the domain of national space agencies? Over the last few years, I have had to answer many iterations of these questions, probably far more often than I would have liked to. It is a reasonable question. Space Missions are the cutting edge of engineering and are incredibly difficult and are expensive. So why bother?

The moon and TeamIndus: Why it is important for private companies to participate in Indias space missions

An impression of the TeamIndus spacecraft on the Moon. Image: TeamIndus.

To answer the question, we must go back in time and examine why lunar exploration slowed down in the seventies. The de-escalation of the space-race from the days of the Apollo and Luna Missions started way before the cold war ended. The space race was all about one-upmanship and with one clear winner, priorities changed in both the United States and the USSR after that. Exploration of space gave way to conversations on usability. That was how it would remain through the eighties and the nineties, when satellites became the centrepiece of the idea of space.

Humanity is now going through a resurgence of interest in space exploration. A new generation of entrepreneurs like Elon Musk have shattered the status quo and have triggered a renewal of the idea that mankind could one day become a spacefaring species. Space agencies and NewSpace companies are now working on exploring Mars. Those exhilarating days of adventure aren’t far if announcements like the one from SpaceX about two American tourists signing up to orbit the Moon is anything to go by.

I have always maintained that today’s science fiction is tomorrow’s reality. We at TeamIndus believe that the early part of the next decade will see mankind taking its first steps on Mars. And unlike our journey to the Moon, mankind is unlikely to be happy with just a handful of men setting foot there.

The Moon, as the nearest outpost, is by default the first stepping stone in this journey to make our species sustainably spacefaring in the long run. Some futurists suggest that the Moon could be a kind of highway stop for humans who travel to Mars and beyond in the future. And that is just one of the many ways in which mankind will look at the Moon.

Another potential reason why Moon will be central to humanity would be as a source for Helium 3, a non-radioactive isotope. It is an element that can theoretically be used for generation of energy. Some commentators say that if humanity can figure out ways to sustain fusion reactions which will help tap into this power source, it can power humanity for 10,000 years. Moon has rich deposits of Helium 3, and while it is still early days to find out if this would be the right path for near perpetual energy, it should be in the mix.

In this exciting world where other countries and companies are experimenting with various directions for the future, why should we in India be passive onlookers? India is at an inflection point when it comes to leading the global narrative. The country is and will continue to reap dividends thanks to an ideal mix of young demographics, increasing digital connectivity and the unshakeable foundation of democracy. For many years ISRO has been pushing the envelope on behalf of all of us in India. It is time that Indian entrepreneurs helped share that responsibility.

TeamIndus comes out of this latent desire and realisation that it is time to redefine India’s journey into space. Now is the time for such endeavours because the existence of a multitude of enabling systems and socio-economic support structures have triggered a latent, aspirational desire to imagine, build and own the future.

When we embarked on this mission, we were clear that our participation in the Google Lunar XPrize was not so much about the prize money as it was about catalysing private enterprise in space in the country, achieving an engineering feat which would prove the prowess of entrepreneurship in India. Irrespective of who wins, this competition will push innovation in the sector and we hope our participation in it will fuel a new generation of Indian entrepreneurs with ambition and aspiration so that not one but many TeamIndus’ are created.

The author is Jedi Master – Marketing and Outreach at TeamIndus 

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