I have been very pessimistic about Chandrayaan-I’s prospects and I am delighted to hear ISRO say it has been successful in placing the spacecraft in lunar orbit. I have had to wonder where, precisely, my pessimism was mistaken. The answer is that I had completely left out in my thinking the vast technological progress that has taken place in telecommunications and telemetry in the last 40 years. I had surveyed the history of similar attempts by the USSR and USA in the 1960s and that was a history littered by failures of many sorts. Let aside rocket-launch failures, the other main sources of failure were in trajectories and in communications. I have been deeply concerned that India was simply going to fall in the same pitfalls along the way. But what I neglected was that our attempt was being made forty years later and the world has seen enormous technological progress during that time, especially in telecom. The Soviet and American missions took place in the early 1960s when, for example, colour television hardly existed. Today, in 2008, ISRO seems to have managed control and guidance systems that have been up to the (very complex) task of placing the spacecraft in lunar orbit. Hats off to ISRO if it turns out they have succeeded, and cheers if they actually manage to get the scientific data they have wished to receive.
The same mistake that I made here in a field not my own is what I have myself pointed out being made in a different context regarding the current world financial crisis. Viz., I said in my September 18 2008 Business Standard article “October 1929? Not!” that the world since the 1929 stock market crash had witnessed so much technological progress that the current crisis could not be compared to the one back then.
November 9 2008