Finally, Pakistan will Orbit the Moon

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By Qamar Bashir

Pakistan's ICUBE-Q satellite is set to be transported by China's Chang'e 6 spacecraft,

scheduled to depart from Hainan, China, on Friday, May 3rd, 2024, at 1250 PST of

China’s time. The ICUBE-Q CubeSat is part of the payload of Chang'e 6 and will orbit

the moon to detect traces of ice on its surface from orbit. Developed by the Institute of

Space Technology (IST) in Pakistan, this miniaturized satellite, known as a CubeSat, is

equipped with two optical cameras designed to capture detailed images of the lunar

surface. If successful, the data collected by this miniature satellite will provide valuable

insights into the moon's topography, geological features, and potential resource deposits.

Though a good beginning, Pakistan's space program is currently minuscule compared to

that of its neighbor, India, in several aspects. India has achieved milestones such as

landing on the moon with Chandrayaan-3, reaching Mars with Mangalyaan, launching a

record number of satellites, and developing reliable launch vehicles, mission to study the

sun's corona, accomplishments that Pakistan has not yet matched.

Perhaps it was India's extraordinary ability, teamwork, cohesive leadership, and vision in

pursuing its space program that may have prompted SUPARCO to show signs of life. But

Pakistan's institutional capacity is still too low and fragile, and its human resources are

often unimaginative and regimented. This lack of capacity hinders meaningful progress

without relying on foreign assistance.

The Indian space research and development programs have been inspired and led by

visionary leaders such as Dr. Vikram Sarabhai, known as the father of the Indian space

program, who established the Indian National Committee for Space Research

(INCOSPAR), later evolving into the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). Prof.

Satish Dhawan, as ISRO chairman from 1972 to 1984, advanced India's space

capabilities with the successful launch of the SLV-3 and Rohini satellites. Prof. U.R. Rao,

ISRO chairman from 1984 to 1994, oversaw the development of the INSAT and PSLV

programs. Dr. K. Kasturirangan, chairman from 1994 to 2003, led the launch of the IRS

and GSAT satellite series. Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, renowned for his missile program

contributions, also played a significant role in India's space program, contributing to the

SLV-3 and PSLV programs. These leaders, among others, have guided India's space

exploration, propelling ISRO into a global space leader.

Pakistan's space research and development program has been influenced by several

visionary leaders. Abdus Salam, although not directly involved, advocated for scientific

advancement in the country, laying the groundwork for future endeavors. Dr. Riazuddin,

a prominent physicist, contributed to Pakistan's nuclear and space programs, aiding in the

establishment of SUPARCO. Dr. Abdus Salam Khan, as SUPARCO chairman from 1996

to 2001, oversaw the launch of Pakistan's first indigenously developed satellite, Badr-A.

Dr. Arshad Ali Hakeem, SUPARCO chairman from 2001 to 2006, facilitated the launch

of satellites for communication and remote sensing. These leaders have collectively

shaped Pakistan's space program, contributing to its progress and achievements in space

exploration. Since 2010 Pakistan’s Space Research program has been headed by army

generals. In 2010 Major General Ahmed Bilal was appointed as SUPARCO head, he was

succeeded by Major General Qaiser Anees Khurran in 2016, followed by Major General

Amer Nadeen in 2018 and who however succeed by Mr. Muhammad Yusuf Khan in

2023, first civilian after 14 years.

Though Pakistan had an early start in the 1960s, launching a sounding rocket before

India, but could not sustain its momentum thanks to our legendary callous attitude

towards matters of national building, our lack of a long-term vision, mission, or clear

milestones for tangible achievements, our hardened habit of achieving flashy innovations

or accomplishments, only to later desecrate, humiliate, and insult those behind such

achievements. This behavior stems from our internal and external institutional

incompetencies, which distort our earlier gains and lead us back into a state of inertia and

status quo. We then slip back into a deep sleep, only to be awakened by the wake-up calls

from other countries, especially India.

Three years later than Pakistan, in 1963, India launched its first rocket which became a

laughing stock being transported by a bullock cart. Since there was no looking back.

Soon due to their continuous, persistent and uninterrupted commitment for Space

exploration, India became a major global player in space exploration and research. While

preparing to take astronauts into orbit in 2025, besides landing on the moon with

Chandrayaan-3, reaching Mars by Mangalyaan mission, launching a record-breaking 104

satellites in a single mission, and developing its own reliable launch vehicles like the

PSLV, and sending a spacecraft called Aditya-L1 to orbit sun and study sun's corona,

chromosphere, photosphere, and solar wind aim to gather data on solar activity, which

can impact Earth's climate and communication systems.

Whereas, Pakistan's space program, overseen by the Space & Upper Atmosphere

Research Commission (SUPARCO), has achieved nothing compared to India's space

program. It hasn't yet developed its own launch vehicles, and uses other nations' help for

securing launch of its satellites and space probes.

In conclusion, Pakistan's space program can achieve great success only if we start

honoring our scientific pioneers, establishing a clear vision and mission, and ensuring

adequate resource allocation. Building state-of-the-art research facilities, cultivating a

skilled workforce, and appointing competent, qualified, relevant and inspiring leaders are

essential steps. Political will and support is crucial for prioritizing the program and

securing necessary funding. International collaborations can also enhance Pakistan's

capabilities. By adopting a strategic approach and investing in space research, Pakistan

can become a key player in the global space arena, bringing pride and prosperity to the

nation.

By Qamar Bashir

Former Press Secretary to the President

Former Press Minister to the Embassy of Pakistan to France

Former MD, SRBC