Gaganyaan: The ingredient is not the recipe

For all the hoopla over indigeneity – from ISRO chairman S. Somanath exalting the vast wisdom of ancient Indians to political and ideological efforts to cast modern India as the world’s ‘vishwaguru’ – the pressure vessel of the crew module that will one day carry the first Indian astronauts to space won’t be made in India. Somanath said as much in an interview to T.S. Subramanian for The Hindu:

There is another element called the crew module and the crew escape system. The new crew module is under development. It is being tested. There is no capability in India to manufacture it. We have to get it from outside. That work is currently going on.

Personally, I don’t care that this element of the ‘Gaganyaan’ mission will be brought from abroad. It will be one of several thousand components of such provenance in the mission. The only thing that matters is we know how to do it: combine the ingredients using the right recipe and make it taste good. That we can’t locally make this or that ingredient is amply secondary. ‘Gaganyaan’ is not a mission to improve India’s manufacturing capabilities. It is a mission to send Indians to space using an Indian launch vehicle. This refers to the recipe, rather than the ingredient.

But indigeneity matters to a section of people who like to thump their chests because, to them, ‘Gaganyaan’ is about showing the world – or at least the West – that India is just as good as them, if not better. Their misplaced sentiments have spilled over into popular culture, where at least two mainstream movies and one TV show (all starring A-list actors) have made villains out of foreign spaceflight agencies or officials. Thinking like this is the reason a lack of complete indigeneity has become a problem. Otherwise, again, it is quite irrelevant, and sometimes even a distraction.

Somanath himself implies as much (almost as if he wishes to separate his comments on the Vedas, etc. from his thinking on ‘Gaganyaan’, etc.):

It depends on our confidence at that point of time… Only when we are very sure of ourselves, we will send human beings into space. Otherwise, we will not do that. In my opinion, it will take more time than we really thought of. We are not worried about it. What we are worried about is that we should do it right the first time. The schedule is secondary here. … Some claims I made last year are not important. I am focusing on capability development.

Featured image: The nose cone bearing the spacecraft of the Chandrayaan-3 mission ahead of being fit to the launch vehicle. Credit: ISRO.