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'My generation has been lucky to witness the sea change in space technology'

THE LIST OF things astronauts have left on the moon is astounding. “There are a total of 96 bags of human waste on the moon,” says the Royal Museums Greenwich website. “Scientists are keen to one day bring this back to earth, to study how its time on the moon has affected it.” It is better to pick up our trash, yes.


And, there are some things left there for eternity, too. Like the ashes of American geologist Eugene Merle Shoemaker. His ashes were sent to the moon in a capsule on board the Lunar Prospector space probe. Accompanying him was William Shakespeare, in the form of these lines from Romeo and Juliet etched on the capsule:


“And, when he shall die,

Take him and cut him out in little stars,

And he will make the face of heaven so fine

That all the world will be in love with night,

And pay no worship to the garish sun.”


I feel my generation has been lucky to witness the sea change in space technology over the years. For example, I was in Class 9 or so when Vostok 1 took Colonel Yuri Gagarin into space in April 1961. Two years later, in June 1963, Vostok 6 orbited the earth with Major General Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman in space. Then came Apollo 11 in July 1969. I was in college when Neil Armstrong famously said, “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” To today’s children, it is just a line in history books; to me and my contemporaries, it was pure magic. Today, with private players like Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin taking tourists into space, the sheen is lost. But space remains space, of course.


Two decades after Gagarin, in April 1984, came our “saare jahan se acha” moment when Wing Commander Rakesh Sharma orbited the earth on board the Soyuz-T11. The Patiala boy who grew up in Hyderabad and graduated from the National Defence Academy united India in pride.


I remember the televised interview where prime minister Indira Gandhi spoke to Sharma, who was in the Salyut 7 orbital station. In that moment of personal glory, when all eyes were on him, Sharma also mentioned Air Commodore Ravish Malhotra, who was India’s backup cosmonaut. It is not for nothing that we call them officers and gentlemen.


After that came the missions by ISRO. Chandrayaan-1 and -2. Mangalyaan. And now, Chandrayaan-3. As I said I have been blessed to see this Indian wonder kiss the moon, carrying your hopes and mine, and of every other Indian. Soon after the landing, I congratulated ISRO Chairman S. Somanath over the phone. We had been in touch ever since he attended a Malayala Manorama event in Kochi. I was bowled over by his humility and the fact that he found time for me when he was being called by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union ministers and the international space research community. Thank you for your kindness, Somanath, and congratulations again.


Earlier this week, Chief Associate Editor and Director Riyad Mathew and Consultant (Sports) Ayaz Memon were in Chennai to meet Viswanathan Anand for an interview against the backdrop of R. Praggnanandhaa’s stellar performance in the Chess World Cup in Baku, Azerbaijan. They came back with wonderful insights and a deep appreciation for the down-to-earth family of the chess ace—his wife, Aruna, and son, Akhil. It was news to me that the 12-year-old Akhil is a painter.


And, we also had a peek into an unseen side of Anand—the celestial photographer. Riyad and Ayaz wisely let Deputy Photo Editor Bhanu Prakash Chandra do the talking about that bit. I am sure Anand would have loved the chat with a kindred soul. We bring you Anand’s sky photos and I am sure you will admire them, dear reader.


Before I sign off, dear reader, let me request your continued support for THE WEEK as we have been forced to increase the price of the magazine to 080 from this issue onwards. Our last price hike was in August 2020, and as all other components that go into the production and distribution of the magazine have become expensive, we were left with no other choice. Thank you for being with us this far, and please do walk with us in the days to come.