Space notes from Bee

26 April 2007

President of India, H E APJ Abdul Kalam visits ISU

As the staff and students went through repeated briefings of security protocols and checks, the excitement could hardly be contained within the small premises in Illkirch. The air was full of anticipation. As an Indian, and as someone who looks upon, this great scientist as one of her heros, I was honestly thrilled to be having Dr Kalam visit ISU. The added beauty of it was that we did not have to go forward and request a visit - he sought out ISU, and HE Requested a visit. In a personal talk to the faculty members, which I was involved in as well, he mentioned that he sees us an institute that has truly taken on the 'borderless nature' of space and put it to practice. This according to him, was the most attractive feature - here is where people, young people especially could learn to collaborate and understand how a truly international and interdisciplinary approach to a prolonged space program would come to fruition.

This visit presented a first of where a head of state had addressed our university in person. He spend time with myself, the only Indian member of staff, with one Indian student, 3 students and 1 staff member of Indian origin. He was very friendly and took upon us as equals, as scientists and space professionals that understood the burning desire of nations such as India, who are just surfacing to the rest of the world as fast growing space powers, who understood what challenges this included and what needed to be done to inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers.

I was honored to welcome him on behalf of all of the staff and students and present him with a bouquet. I got pictures with him, but we are still awaiting the official pictures - Watch this space! later on, I joined him and the Indian delegation that included the Shri Vilas Muttemwar, Indian Central minister for non conventional energy sources, Prof Ranjan, Prof N Balakrishnan, Shri Narayan Moorthi, Shri Ranjan Mathai who is the ambassador of India to France and several other Members of Parliament, Presidential guests and Secretaries of State. During this 'private' meeting, the President appreciated the unique aspects of the ISU Curriculum and suggested key areas he would like to be addressed and embraced in further detailed studies and TPs.

once again, it was great to hear this from him!

Then he took time to address and interact with the students and staff of ISU as well as some other members of the Indian community who had traveled from far and wide to meet the First Citizen of India. During his address, he modified his Boston University talk (which he did not expect us to know in the detail we did!) and talked about Creative leadership. He emphasized the importance of connectivity and introduced the excellent initiative of the Pan-African e-network as well as the Virtual Universities established in India. With this connectivity leap, we are creating a leap-frog advancement in bridging the last-mile issues, also filling the niche for bridging the opportunity gap. Photo courtesy: Bala from India

All his ideas, his interaction and the warmth of his advise to ISU students and staff impressed every single person in the audience and were truly awe-inspiring. He also joked fondly with us. During his interaction, he remarked with weariness that one 'guy' had asked him 6 questions (well, not guy, but I confess, that was me! - I was only tiring to make sure we had lot more questions so that he could choose!) A detailed account of his address is on the president's website .
In his interaction whilst answering our questions: He called out my name 'Bee Thakore' and asked me what my real name was - to which I replied 'Bijal, but everyone calls me 'Bee''. He joked with me, calling me 'a busy bee' and provided some very interesting feedback on how we can help create a better picture of tomorrow's space programs by helping today's youth.

*) Honorable President, thank you for visiting us at the International Space University. As an Indian and a space advocate, I am extremely proud of the achievements of the Indian Space activities in bridging the socio-economic gap that exists within our large urban and rural populations. In 2006, I attended the UN-IAF workshop on ?Use of Space Technology for Water Management? in Spain, which had a room full of Indian space experts who stunned the audience with their expertise and insights. Such forums are a great way to forward the know-how to other countries developing such capabilities. However, there are a vast amount of youth ? space students and professionals who would like to receive this information as well. How can young space advocates like us at ISU help disseminate this information to fellow youth in India and around the world? How can we help ISRO in its outreach?

- Bee Thakore, Teaching Associate for Masters in Space Studies, ISU from India.

Ans: I entirely agree with you that the vast number of youth ? space students and professionals should get to know of all relevant things that are happening in space technology and the way by which space technology contributes to the socio-economic developments.

The space scientists are the originators of the idea of long distance communication and they understand connecting people very well. I suggest that the young space advocates like all of you at ISU, should use the Internet, create your own websites, blogs and social networks and disseminate information within all of you and also to the common public and policy makers. The future of information dissemination is likely to be through the contributions of the community and through informal structures supported over the Internet, with no central authority, the information being reviewed, corrected and monitored by voluntary community efforts.

*) At several occasions you have talked regarding the socio-economic advances brought about in India by use of space applications. However, a problem of dissemination to the last mile still exists, due to issues such as information penetration into poor communities, local language restricting information transmitted in English. How do we solve these challenges?

Ans: The problem of last mile in India is rapidly disappearing. As you are aware, India is the fastest growing tele-communication market in the world while the market in the developed countries is almost saturated. India adds almost seven million telephone lines a month and many of them are cell phones.

The tremendous advances made in the cell phone technology itself is helping the access device to be language independent. Today, many of the cell phones in India support Indian languages and so are our websites. Very soon, you will find neither the access nor the language will become a barrier for the Indian farmers to obtain the information they need and at the time and place they need.

*) In your address to the Boston University Symposium, you talked of an International Space Force. How can we as young students and professionals help in forming one or developing the visions we want the International Space Force to work on?

Ans: We recognize the necessity for the world?s Space community to avoid terrestrial geo-political conflict to be drawn into outer space, thus threatening the space assets belonging to all mankind. This leads on to the need for an International Space Force made up of all nations wishing to participate and contribute to protect world space assets in a manner which will enable peaceful exploitation of space on a global cooperative basis. Space is right now without artificial national boundaries, its pure and with no history yet of ?environmental damage? and ?pollution?. The International Space Force must work to maintain this purity for several millennium.

Young students and professionals should meet often and come up with a simple vision statement, articulated well. They then should confer to evolve the working model for the International Space Force. This must be a non-governmental movement.

*) Personally, I feel that as space enthusiasts, we should not forget that Earth really is the most interesting part of Space. At ISU, we take ?Space and Society? issues seriously and these particularly apply to a country like ours, which has the largest number of youth population who are motivated to lead the country out of poverty and lack of education. Have we looked into finding social entrepreneurship solutions to poverty, distribution of clean drinking water, providing primary and secondary education, etc. to the poorest communities? If so, what incentives exist for such entrepreneurs, for e.g. do you think spinning what was a highly successful space event ? the Ansari X PRIZE would work?

Ans: Encouraging social entrepreneurs to use space technology as a vehicle for the development of the society is highly welcome. As you are aware, the space scientists get encouragement through several awards in India and elsewhere and also through their own peer recognition. Instead of one 10 M $ prize, it would be more welcome to have multitude of lesser valued prizes, though the money attached to the prize is not necessarily the one for which the social entrepreneurs value.

*) India has implemented tele-education via UGC and IGNOU programs extremely well since the early days of the inception of ISRO and the start of its space acitivities. The recent Gyan Darshan has shown desirable effects as well, however, what do you see is the next big leap in tele-education?

Ans: Encouraged by the success of the usage of satellite for sharing of knowledge within the country, we have started working on world knowledge platform. The Pan-African e-network programme which is in an advanced stage of establishing the connectivity between India and African Union (53 Nations) to provide tele-education, tele-medicine and e-governance services. Many such efforts are underway. The India inspired world knowledge platform involving many other countries will soon become a reality, attempting to make the knowledge world without borders.

The Indian efforts in producing high quality contents in English and many Indian languages has become a major focus in our 11th plan period. I recently inaugurated one such effort spearheaded by the Ministry of Human Resource Development called SAKSHAT ( The IITs and IISc and many leading technical institutions have also contributed in creating contents through a collaborative effort called NPTEL (National Programme for Technology Enhanced Learning). As you are aware, India is also a leading contributors to the universal digital library project (

Besides the concerted efforts on contour creation, the infrastructure build up for connectivity through a combination of satellite, fibre and wireless broadband technologies has also been a major focus of the nation. The third component of the tele-education besides Connectivity and Content is the access device ?Computer. India is contributing to the world efforts to make low cost affordable PCs that will work very efficiently in a rural environment.

*) Space exploration, especially human spaceflight, has become an example of how well countries can collaborate and achieve a larger goal. Past Chandrayaan, how will India collaborate with other countries in lunar exploration as well as with utilization of the ISS?

Ans: The Indian Space Programme is built on continuous collaboration with every space faring nations and my feeling is that this collaboration is built on the respect for individual capabilities and recognition of the advantages of interaction between participating countries. Hence, this would have a much bigger longevity than one could imagine. You would see more of combined development of launch vehicles, carrying other countries satellites, international force to repair satellites and the multi country joint space stations.

*)Lastly, how long do you think it would be before we see the first Indian woman land on the Moon or on Mars?

Ans: Three of the astronauts who have taken on space missions have been of Indian origin-Rakesh Sharma, Kalpana Chawla and Sunita Williams. Two out of three are women. Hence the chances of Indian women landing on the Moon or on the Mars pretty soon is high.

I was thrilled! The excitement continued until he left after a group picture with the students.

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