23 August 2023 was a proud day for the Indian Space Research Organisation. The Chandrayaan-3 (Chandrayaan means ‘moon vehicle’ in Hindi and Sanskrit) robotic spacecraft has become the first to achieve the perilous descent to land near the Moon’s rock-and crater-strewn south pole (1) – see the photograph below.(2)
Just a few days earlier the Russian Luna-25 spacecraft crashed into the surface of the Moon during preparations to attempt a landing at the same location raising major questions about the future of Russia’s space program.(3)
Announcing this scientific feat to the world, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, declared to:
‘the people of the world, the people of every country and region [that] India’s successful moon mission is not just India’s alone. [That India represents] a one family human-centric approach and this success belongs to all of humanity and will help moon mission[s] by other countries in the future.’
<Click here to hear the address.>
In the 1970s, the USSR landed a probe on the surface of Venus. This was part of the Venera (which means ‘Venus’ in Russian) program, the name given to a series of space probes developed by the Soviet Union between 1961 and 1984 to gather information about the planet Venus, for example, to find evidence for panspermia (4) (by virtue of the discovery of phosphine (a toxic, colourless, malodorous gas) on Venus. Phosphine is considered to be a biosignature gas, i.e., a gas that is produced by life forms.
So, on Earth, phosphine can be manufactured, or is produced, naturally by some species of anaerobic bacteria—organisms that live in oxygen-starved environments such as in marshlands and animal guts. But scientists are at a loss to explain how these microbes can survive in the hostile Venusian clouds that are mostly composed of sulphuric acid.
Instead of celebrating the successful Venusian landing as an achievemnet for humanity, it is disheartening to find the head of the Russian space agency, Roscosmos, boastfully claiming that ‘Venus is a Russian planet.(5)
- Readers should be left in no doubt that this article is not intended to highlight the differences between the psyche of the Indians and the Russians (to do so would be unspeakably arrogant). The intention is only concerned with drawing a distinction between the different level of consciousness which subserves their individual space exploration programs.
- Notwithstanding the entirely justifiable reservations that many would have that the vast sums involved in India’s space exploration would be better used for agricultural projects to feed the starving millions, this article starkly highlights the contrast between a universal outlook and a parochial mentality: a consciousness of we/ us/ ours/ we’re all in it together, versus that of I/ me/ mine/ I got there first.
- Unless the outer conquest of space is balanced by the inner conquest of Space, i.e. Mind, mankind lies in grave danger of mindless destruction through the unbridled energies released in this atomic age.
1. T. V. Padma, ‘India lands on the Moon! Scientists celebrate as Chandrayaan-3 touches down’, Nature, 23 August 2023, <https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-023-02690-7> accessed 24 August 2023.
2. Space, 21 August 2023 <https://www.space.com/india-chandrayaan-3-moon-landing-livestream> accessed 24 August 2023.
3. Jonathan O’Callaghan, ‘Russian Moon lander crash – what happened, and what’s next?’, Nature, 21 August 2023 <https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-023-02659-6> accessed 24 August 2023.
4. The hypothesis that life exists throughout the Universe, distributed by space dust, asteroids etc.
5. The Week, 26 September 2020, 7.