First of all, heartiest congratulations to the scientists of the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro). They may have failed temporarily in soft landing the lander, Vikram, on the Moon, but they have proved that the tiny organization, which carried its stuff on a bullock cart to Thumba (Kerala) 43 years ago, has now evolved into a huge establishment. We must remember that the journey of science draws inspiration and energy not from successes, but from failures. Inventor Thomas Alva Edison faced failure a thousand times in an effort to light a small bulb.

The greatest test of any country and its countrymen is at the time when young dreams die. The way the audio and visual media created a sensation around the Chandrayaan-2 landing, it made hopes of people rise to the Moon. And the entire country accepted with grace and conviction the shock we felt after the communication with Vikram was snapped. And, the way Prime Minister Narendra Modi encouraged the scientists on this rare occasion should be lauded. The people who heard his words on this morning when scientists faced this failure, will remember them for a long time.

For the people of my generation who grew up listening to the rhyme “chanda mama door ke, puye pakayen gur ke..." such scientific narrative means the end of poetic romanticism. I was just nine when Neil Armstrong took the first steps on the surface of the Moon. The world was different then. There was no social media and television in India was limited to just Delhi. Even at that time, I had seen my elders glued to the radio. People were so curious and excited wondering if the first person stepping on the Moon is reaching a place more beautiful than even heaven? For thousands of years we have been comparing beauty with the Moon, will the Moon then give a new dimension to the word ‘beauty’?

But the reality was different. The Moon’s surface filled with deep craters proved that all the literary imaginations about it were mere fantasy.

Science follows thought and thoughts always require the support of imagination. Apollo-11 forced the poets of the world to think in an entirely new manner. During those days, some well-read people recalled the American general Homer Boushey’s comment that one “who controls the Moon, controls the Earth". Today the Moon actually seems to be emerging as a protector of humanity. There are evidences of water there. Needless to say that the crisis of drinking water is deepening on Earth due to the burden of rising population and, hence, we are feeling the need for alternative planets. Besides Moon, Mars is also the focus of attention of the scientists because there too there is sufficient quantity of water available which is essential for life.

Here, it would be appropriate to mention one of our own scientists. Syed Zahoor Qasim belonged to Allahabad. He led India’s first expedition to Antarctica. As a young reporter I had covered his felicitation ceremony held in Prayag Sangeet Samiti. In his speech, he had said that in the coming days Antarctica will provide us with supply of water, as well as an alternative place to inhabit. At that time, we who were born in the vicinity of the Ganga and Yamuna, could not even imagine about a water crisis. But Qasim Sa’ab’s statement made us understand that if science doesn’t have a far-sighted approach, humanity may soon fall in the clutches of crisis.

India’s expedition to the Moon should also be seen in the same perspective. When US President Donald Trump is saying that China and India should be considered developed countries, then our great country, despite economic contradictions should have a far-sighted approach. The European space agency is talking about settling an “international village" on the Moon by 2030. The Russian space agency Roscosmos has also announced that it will start building a colony on Moon by 2025, which will be completed by 2040. In such a situation, the largest democracy of the world cannot sit with its eyes closed.

In the coming days, we the Indians are going to leave China behind as far as population is concerned. Therefore, we will have to focus on alternatives to our planet. Here I would like to draw your attention to a historical tragedy. Had the Mughal emperors focused on forming a navy instead of spending on a lavish life, we wouldn’t have become slaves to European colonialists. The kings and queens of Europe were doing the same. Queen Mary gifted the world’s most powerful navy to England, later tsar Catherine recognized the power of the sea. She used to say that we (Russia) needed a window to the world. The window, that is the ocean. And for this she even divided Poland.

The future belongs to the space, therefore Isro should be congratulated because it is preparing keeping in mind the future necessities and requirements.

Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan.

The views expressed are personal.

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