Back to the Moon

The Indian Space Research Organisation has successfully landed their spacecraft Chandrayaan-3 at the south pole of the moon.

India is the fourth nation, or organisation, to successfully land on the moon, after the USA, Russia, and China, and the first to have successfully touched down on the lunar south pole. Russia’s Luna 25 spacecraft, heading for the same region, crashed a few days ago.

In 2023, there seems to be a real rush to go back to the moon’s surface.

Navigating deep space and successfully landing on a celestial body some 400,000 km away is not an easy feat. It’s pretty much another ballgame than orbiting earth and travelling to and from the international space station. Not to take anything away from the engineers and astronauts involved in “space activities” around the space station, but I find this not too exciting.

Now, whether India investing their funds into space travel and moon landings is the right thing to do is another question. There are many aspects to this. India is such a diverse country, in many respects. National pride might be a factor, but a minor one from my view. I see much more the education and job opportunities for young people in all the fields involved, from maths to physics to all areas of engineering, just to name a few.

Space travel requires to be at the leading edge, regarding knowledge and skills and technologies, and I think it’s beneficial for India in the long run. Educated people are the future of any country. In the sixties and seventies of the last century, there were also arguments made in the USA to “first solve the problems at home on earth” before traveling out into space. That’s short-sighted, as first, then you would wait forever, and second, the scientific advances and the technologies thusly gained also help solving problems. A nation needs to have the courage, and the will, to do both. Finding the balance is the key, which gets harder and harder in our polarised world, especially as the esteem and respect for science – and the scientific process – and real know-how seem in decline.

In my view, just building pure knowledge, even without direct and immediate applicability for daily life, has its own merits. It’s a basic human endeavour. It’s an opportunity to learn and teach. It’s important for any society to understand science – not as a corpus of knowledge, but as a never-ending process.1 It’s fundamentally good if countries like India participate and contribute, since we know that the scientific process and its direct and indirect results, ie. knowledge and its application, are not really free of the context of culture, society, and the people involved. Diversity is beneficial.

By pure luck, ie. without any effort and contribution by me, I grew up in a country with a decent public school system, and could get my MSc degree from one of the ten best2 universities in the world, ETH in Zurich. Here’s the important part: ETH is a public school as well, as Swiss citizen I could attend without the horrendous fees of a private university, eg. as in the USA. I, or my parents, certainly would not have been able pay these. Luck is a pretty strong success factor.

I want every country to have an ETH.

  1. Formulation of explanatory (ie. not just descriptive) theories, from there testable hypotheses and predictions, then testing for supporting evidence, or for falsification. ↩︎

  2. Or twenty. Depending on the ranking methodology, and the year. Not really relevant. It’s a global top university. Public. Free. It can be done if the country is willing to invest in high-quality education, including for the ones with limited financial means. ↩︎