By Dr Ajey Lele
Chandrayaan 2: Today, two major contrasts are visible in India. Owing to acute water shortage, one of the main metropolitans in the country, Chennai has been forced to get the water from other parts of the country via train. And on the other hand, just about 100km away from Chennai from a rocket launch pad located at Sriharikota, India would be launching its second Moon Mission on 15 July, which has been designed to identify and study the availability of water on the Moon.
India’s first mission to Moon (2008) has already discovered the availability of the water over the Moon. Now, the second mission is expected to further develop on this discovery.
India’s Chandrayaan-2, which has been in making for the last decade or so is costing the country around Rs 1000 crores. Obviously, the question in the mind of commoners is that, ‘why India is putting so much money and technological expertise to find water on the Moon, particularly when water shortages are existing in the country’?
However, it may not be correct to join these two issues together, simply because there is nothing common in these two situations. Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO)’s mandate is about investigations in space and they are fulling their responsibility nicely within a very modest budget.
Nature plays a very prominent role in the availability of water. In fact, ISRO’s satellites are of great assistance to know more about the existing ‘water cycle’. Also, it would be of interest to know that ISRO’s Moon mission could actually help India (maybe indirectly) towards its quest for ensuring water security for the future.
It is important to appreciate that, today satellite technology is impacting almost the life of every Indian individual. Satellites play an important role in every aspect of life, from weather prediction to education to medicine to commutations to internet to mobile telephone network. Today, we are getting all these benefits because our forefathers have done timely investments towards the development of space technologies. Some space projects do not show immediate results but have relevance for the future.
There is a specific long-term agenda for India’s space programme. India understands that any possible discovery of large quantities of water on the Moon surface would actually boost the changes of humans colonizing the Moon.
Since water is very heavy it is just not possible to carry it from the surface of the earth to Moon for the survival of the human beings over there. Hence, it is important to find a water source over there only. There could be various reasons for humans colonising the Moon (this may happen possibly after a few decades) and one of the major reasons for this is going to be the mining of the Moon for minerals.
Today, water is known as an ‘oil of space’. First, there is a need to mine the water for human survival. It would be of use not only for drinking but also for growing vegetables over there. More importantly, water would also have indirect utility towards ensuring the availability of rocket propellant.
Energy security is another reason for India’s quest for the Moon. India is experimenting to identify the existence of Helium-3 on the Moon surface. It is expected that major quantities of this He-3 are available on the surface of the Moon. This non-radioactive He-3 has great potential to power nuclear fusion reactors for hundreds of years. It could take few more decades to get the He-3 back from Moon to earth. However, it is expected to offer major solutions to the global energy crisis and this is where there is a link to find a solution to the problem of water on the earth.
Chennai is a coastal city, but there is no water for drinking. Seawater needs to be processed for drinking and the process is known as Desalination. This process removes dissolved minerals (like salt etc) from seawater. Chennai is proposing for Sea Water Reverse Osmosis (SWSO) desalination plants. However, Desalination technology is an extreme energy guzzler technology and that is one of the reasons why it has got very less traction, globally. In the era of climate change only options like He-3 based energy could offer solutions for such crisis.
The water crisis is a challenge both for the present and the future. Chandrayaan-2 operating on Moon may not offer immediate solutions for water crisis of Chennai. But it needs to be remembered that, the money spent on Chandrayaan-2 is for the betterment of human life in some way or another.
(The author is Senior Fellow, IDSA, New Delhi. Views expressed are personal)
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Source: Financial Express