Dr. S. Somanath, Chairman, Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO). Elaborating on futuristic concepts like having a human colony on Venus, Somanath spoke about the possibility and challenges of having balloons floating in the harsh Venusian atmosphere amid acid clouds and supporting human life. Photograph:( Twitter )
While explaining the potential of Venus exploration, studies, and future science missions of the state-run Indian space agency, Somanath urged scientists and academia to think of unique, larger outcomes from such missions and how they could benefit India and the world
Elaborating on a Venus Orbiter mission that has been on the drawing board of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), Chairman Dr S. Somanath said that its project report has been made, the plan is prepared, and the budget has been identified.
While explaining the potential of Venus exploration, studies, and future science missions of the state-run Indian space agency, Somanath urged scientists and academia to think of unique, larger outcomes from such missions and how they could benefit India and the world.
Speaking at the ISRO-organized national meet on Venus Science, Somanath, who also serves as Secretary, Department of Space, said that right from inception, ISRO had been seeing space as a platform for conducting experiments and understanding the universe. However, over the years, the organisation evolved to perform operational activities such as building and launching satellites and rockets and performing national missions.
"Building some instruments (integrating them on a satellite), launching them, and taking them to Venus may be possible within a short period of time, because the capability exists in ISRO to do that. Building a Venus mission satellite is definitely possible, the mission management to reach there is definitely possible, and we have a launch vehicle to reach there (Venus)", Somanath said, on ISRO's current capabilities.
However, he also wanted scientists and academia to ponder over questions such as: what are you going to provide as a result to society? What is going to be your contribution to global knowledge? How effectively will the mission be utilised for the goals set in the beginning?
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On performing impactful science missions, he said that unique mission outcomes are necessary and that merely repeating what other countries have done is not sufficient. He stressed the necessity of reviewing the additional information, knowledge, and observations that a mission would offer, with regard to what has not been done by other agencies. While he added that repeating some experiments and re-validating what is done by other countries (space agencies) is not wrong, he emphasized that a mission needed to have unique outcomes.
"From my position of Chairman, ISRO, I am faced with conflicting requirements when planning science missions. Most importantly, it is a costly affair that involves an expensive rocket and satellite, besides the years-long efforts of a lot of people, "Somanath explained to the scientists. He touched upon how it was extremely important to have adequate "selling points" to convince the decision-makers (government) regarding the value of performing such missions.
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Elaborating on futuristic concepts like having a human colony on Venus, Somanath spoke about the possibility and challenges of having balloons floating in the harsh Venusian atmosphere amid acid clouds and supporting human life. He also pointed out the necessity of India taking first steps in that direction, in a manner that benefits the entire nation. "Scientists have a responsibility to satisfy their inner desire to prove science and also a responsibility to prove to the nation that your (scientific) work is worth doing for the nation," he concluded.
Regarding the fundamental challenges in the exploration of Venus, Dr. Maria Antonita from ISRO's Space Science Programme Office said that Venus has a maximum surface temperature of 462 degrees Celsius, which is even capable of melting rocks. Besides the hot and dry weather, the planet's atmospheric composition was dominated by carbon dioxide, which amounts to 96.5 per cent. In addition to this, the pressure on Venus, is more than 90 times as much as that on Earth. She added that as a planet that is considered a twin of Earth and one that is relatively close to Earth, Venus continues to intrigue scientists, thus leading to many science missions since the 1960s) to study the planet.