Sunday, February 3, 2008

US-India ties set to go over the moon

On matters of space flights and exploration, India has put its cards on table for the United States to see - literally.

At a luncheon meeting on Wednesday hosted by a Washington DC think-tank on K-Street, better known as a hang-out for lobbyists than space buffs, the tables were all named after Indian space pioneers – Dhawan, Chandrasekhar, Sarabhai...

It was an audacious display by a country that till recently was banished from the US space business by a rigid sanctions regime that didn't allow the transfer of a screw, let alone its drivers. But this week, a top-flight delegation led by a person who an US interlocutor described as India's "Mr Space" motored into town for talks on India's mission to the moon and beyond, including Washington's involvement in the Chandrayan series of flights.

There will be two US instruments and experiments among the nearly dozen that will go onboard Chandrayan-I, but as India's space chief Madhavan Nair pointed out repeatedly, that reflects only a pittance of the potential for space cooperation between the two countries. Even with regard to supply of components, tight sanctions that are only being relaxed slowly have kept it down to $ 15 million annually when there is scope for $ 100 million.