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India's space programme has earned international repute

"The space programme has a vital role to play in making the concept of sustainable development a reality," told Indian PM Manmohan Singh in an address at the Space Applications Centre.

It is a matter of great pleasure for me to be here with all of you today. The Space Applications Centre is one of the premier centres of the Indian Space Research Organization. It is special because it is located in the city where Dr. Vikram Sarabhai, the father of our space programme, was born.

I also extend my greetings to the wider ISRO family who are participating in this event from across the country.

Before coming here, I was particularly keen to meet the younger scientists at this Centre. I am delighted that I got this opportunity a short while ago. What I saw has given me renewed confidence and hope. The young men and women whom I met represent the face of a young and resurgent India, and the future of our country. They are privileged to belong to a rich legacy of Indian astronomy that goes back several centuries to Aryabhatta and Bhaskara.

The desire to probe the mysteries of nature and the universe is as old as the universe itself. It is this spirit of inquiry that has propelled humankind towards progress. This was understood very early on by our founding fathers, and they went out of their way to promote a scientific temper among our youth.

Pandit Jawarharlal Nehru told the Indian Science Congress in Allahabad in 1949, and I quote that “It is the mind of man that has achieved everything and developed everything”, unquote. This is a powerful thought. We were truly blessed not only to have enlightened leaders like Pandit Nehru but also men of vision like Dr Vikram Sarabhai and Professor Satish Dhawan to guide our space programme in its formative period.

Ours is a space programme that is unique on many counts.

For one, it is completely indigenous, adapted to suit our needs and conditions. It has achieved self-reliance in the areas of design and development of satellites, launch vehicles and provision of space based services to the people. Indigenously developed satellite systems for earth observations and communications have become the mainstay of our space infrastructure.

Secondly, we have proved all those wrong who claimed that a space programme is a luxury that developing nations cannot afford. Our space programme has, in fact, helped us to leapfrog in technology and bring significant social, economic and industrial transformation to the most remote areas. With relatively modest financial outlays, we have put in place a space infrastructure that touches every aspect of an ordinary citizen’s life. It has reduced uncertainties and ignorance, and shrunk time and distance. It has brought Indians closer to each other than we have ever been.

Thirdly, our programme has generated widespread spin-offs in other fields of science and technology and in industry. ISRO has played a leadership role in the indigenization of strategic materials, increase in the level of technological skills and encouragement of a culture of partnership between government and the private sector.

Lastly, our space programme has earned international repute. We have achieved global standards in space technology and its applications. Recently, a visiting dignitary told me how impressed all the ASEAN countries were with our capabilities, and want to expand their cooperation with us in the field of space. I felt very proud to hear this.

The Indian National Satellite System is one of the largest constellations of communication satellites in the Asia Pacific region. Indian Remote Sensing satellites provide high resolution imaging capability not only over India, but also other parts of the globe. Our launch capabilities are recognised globally. The Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle has had sixteen successful flights and put forty four satellites in orbit, twenty five of which belong to foreign parties. India has emerged as a world leader in building versatile satellites, such as the recently launched OCEANSAT-2.

Having achieved so much, it is important that we look ahead and plan for the future.

Dr. Vikram Sarabhai had once said and I quote “Technology is not an objective to be aimed at, but a tool to be used for the benefit of the common man,” unquote. I believe it is important for ISRO to concentrate its resources and evolve a perspective plan for its future development that is based on clearly defined objectives and benefits.

Large scale poverty is the foremost challenge facing our country. The unfortunate truth is that the fruits of our growth are not equally shared among different segments of our society. We have to be acutely conscious of regional disparities and imbalances within the country, and address the inequalities that exist.

Space based applications are a very potent means of bridging these divides in our society. It is therefore necessary that we work towards reducing the cost of access to space. This requires expediting the development of heavy lift launchers, advanced propulsion systems, including the cryogenic stage, and recoverable and reusable launch systems. We should pay greater attention to the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle Programme.

As our economy expands, there will be growing pressure on our resources, whether it is land, water or minerals. Remote sensing applications for such purposes will be critical. Simultaneously, the processes of urbanization will gather speed and we will have to face the challenge of management of urbanization.

Food security and self-sufficiency in agriculture, particularly paying special attention to the needs of the small and marginal farmers, remains yet another fundamental goal.

In such a scenario, managing the environment and tackling climate change will be major challenges. Our disaster warning and response capabilities will have a major impact on livelihood security for our people. The role of space based observation systems, development of newer class of environment and monitoring sensors and study of weather related phenomena assume great importance in this regard.

Taken together, the space programme has a vital role to play in making the concept of sustainable development a reality.

The other major goal before us is the socio-economic empowerment of our people. The Satellite Instructional Television Experiment, which was the brainchild of this Centre, demonstrated for the first time how space technology could be used for broadcasting and for reaching the benefits of education to the village level. Although we have come a long way since then, there is much more that needs to be done. Tele-education, tele-medicine and Village Resource Centre services deserve high priority. ISRO’s contribution to the monitoring of programmes like the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, the Accelerated Benefit Irrigation Programme and Bharat Nirman is laudable.

Empowerment requires that we ensure space services are available to all sections of society. Access to information should be easy. In the years ahead ISRO should make a conscious effort to reach out to beneficiaries and consumers of space products so that they can extract maximum advantage from the technology that is available in the country.

The information and communications revolution is upon us. It is changing the lives of millions of our people across cities, towns and villages faster than we could have imagined. This transformation has been made possible in large measure due to the space infrastructure you have built. We should aim to master newer technologies for more sophisticated communication satellites. For example, satellite based broadband internet services could bring about a new technological revolution that directly benefits rural and remote areas.

I am glad that ISRO is aiming to achieve self-reliance in the area of navigation through the Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System. This will enable secure transport and better air traffic management and search and rescue operations.

I have referred earlier to the spirit of scientific inquiry. We will do all that is necessary to promote scientific discoveries, and for ISRO to remain at the cutting edge of technology. You will have the government’s support in your quest to better understand the solar system and universe, and in the continuing discovery of space.

There have been some aberrations and setbacks in the space programme in the recent past. These are being dealt with in accordance with laid down procedures. It is however important that you work with renewed dedication, sincerity and zeal to fulfil the high expectations we have from our space programme.

Dr. Vikram Sarabhai had rightly said that no organisation chart should stand in the way of recognising and rewarding talent. I would encourage the Centre Directors and other Heads of Departments to nurture and groom young talent, inculcate the qualities of leadership, and promote team work.

As a teacher myself, I know the joy that comes from seeing younger generations shape their own destiny. Here in ISRO you have the opportunity to shape not only your destiny but the destiny of the country. I therefore do hope that the Indian Institute of Space Technology will attract the best minds and grow into a world class institution.

With these words, I have great pleasure in wishing each and every one of you the very best in your professional and personal lives. The country is proud of your achievements, and wishes you greater successes in the years ahead.

Thank you.

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