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The Future of India’s Space Mission: Mars and Beyond

By Jaganath Sankaran

Jaganath Sankaran is a postdoctoral research associate at the National Security Education Center at Los Alamos National Laboratories. Sankaran wrote his doctoral dissertation at the University of Maryland’s School of Public Policy on the topic of space security. Part of this opinion piece has been adapted from the author’s article titled: “Space Cooperation: A Vital New Front for India-U.S. Relations” published in Space News. The opinions expressed in the article are solely the author’s do not represent the positions of any organization.

Sankaran spoke at a SAI seminar last February: China-India Space Race: Rhetoric or Reality? 

India’s Mars probe, Mangalyaan, was successfully placed on an orbit around the red planet on the 24th of September, 2014. The event has sparked an outpouring of nationalistic pride in India in response to the scientific achievement. The positive reaction is richly deserved by India’s Space Research Organization. Placing a research satellite around Mars is, indeed, a difficult task.

A number of missions by other advanced scientific nations have failed in the past. In 1998, for example, Japan failed to place its Nozomi spacecraft on a Mars Orbit due to a malfunctioning valve that led to propellant leakage. More recently, in 2011, Russian Phobos-Grunt and Chinese Mars orbiter Yinghuo-1 failed due to problems with the launch vehicle. Since 1998, the U.S. has attempted ten missions to Mars of which three failed. Similarly, since 1998, the European Space Agency has managed to place only one of its Mars orbiters out of two attempts.

All of this data points to the significance of the India’s achievement. A number of things could have gone wrong in a Martian mission. India’s Space Research Organization—to its credit—managed to anticipate and avoid such pitfalls in its first Mars mission.

What is next on the agenda for India? India has a number of space exploration missions lined up for the future. One is a follow on to its first Moon mission, Chandrayaan-II. There is apparently also plans to launch a spacecraft—Aditya-I—to study solar coronal mass ejections.

Important as these scientific space explorations missions may be, however, India’s major initiatives in space continue to be focused on earth missions that have more immediate applications.  Specifically, some of these missions will be undertaken in cooperation with the United States. In 2012, India and the U.S. signed implementing agreements for active collaborative on the U.S.-led Global Precipitation Measurement project. India’s Megha-Tropiques, a satellite mission to study the water cycle in the tropical region in the context of climate change, forms part of the Global Precipitation Measurement mission being led by the U.S. and Japan.

More recently, the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the Indian Space Research Organization have agreed to collaborate and plan to launch an L- and S-band synthetic aperture radar satellite for weather-related research. By gathering data in two wavelengths, researchers hope to be able to more accurately observe and classify varieties in vegetation, measure changes in the amount of carbon stored in vegetation, and observe changes in soil moisture.

This joint mission is part of a NASA plan to launch a series of water and drought monitoring satellites over the next several years designed to observe and study Earth’s interconnected natural systems, and to better visualize the changes occurring on Earth. This joint mission is expected to fulfill some of the key scientific objectives of NASA’s proposed Deformation, Ecosystem Structure and Dynamics of Ice (DESDynI) mission.

The U.S. National Research Council in 2007 identified DESDynI as a top Earth Science priority, but budget pressures have confined the mission to the drawing board. Working together, India and the U.S. will be able to obtain data on some of the DESDynI objectives.

Such joint ventures, given national budgetary constraints under which spacefaring nations like the United States and India operate, is an effective means to further the understanding of Earth’s ecosystem. Such ventures also strengthen relationships between the two countries.


    HarvardX course closes in on global view

    This article originally appeared in the Harvard Gazette

    By Jennifer Doody, Harvard Correspondent

    Photo courtesy of the Harvard Gazette / Rose Lincoln/Harvard Staff Photographer

    For Tarun Khanna, the Jorge Paulo Lemann Professor at Harvard Business School and director of the South Asia Institute, aspiring entrepreneurs could learn a lot from the Kumbh Mela.

    Held every 12 years, the Hindu pilgrimage attracts 120 million people over a 45-day period, the equivalent of about one-third of the U.S. population. Even more astonishing, Khanna said, the “tiny city” that hosts the event “doesn’t even exist until the river recedes,” revealing the land that will welcome and host millions of Hindus and visitors. It is considered the world’s largest “pop-up city.”

    Speaking before a crowd of 75 people at the Harvard Allston Education Portal(Ed Portal), Khanna’s lecture explored the benefits of interdisciplinary problem-solving of complex health problems on an international scale, based on his HarvardX course “Entrepreneurship and Healthcare in Emerging Economies,” launching on Oct. 30.

    That enormous scale points out “what being an entrepreneur is all about,” he said. “When you begin to think about solving problems, you need an entirely different approach. You need to think on a much larger scale.”

    A global world view, Khanna said, opens up whole new ways to approach problems — if the entrepreneur has the vision to recognize them. He suggested that maintaining the broad view, while focusing on specific actions, was essential to approaching the problem. In developing countries, often, whole systems need to be created to achieve the broad vision.

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      Save the Date: Events with Photojournalist Pablo Bartholomew, Nov. 4-5

      Join SAI for 2 events on Nov. 4 and 5, and photo exhibition, with Indian photojournalist Pablo Bartholomew, who will be at Harvard as part of SAI’s Arts Initiative, which connects with artists who use art as a medium to communicate intractable social issues that impact South Asia.

      In early 1983, Pablo Bartholomew, then in his late twenties, went on assignment for Time to cover the terrible Nellie massacre in Assam, which was one of the worst ethnic clashes between the tribal people and alleged settlers from Bangladesh. Since then he has returned frequently to this region. From 1989 he traveled through the states of Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, and Manipur that border upper Burma (Myanmar).

      His journeys through the deepest recesses of the region’s terrain were not spurred by wanderlust or sheer curiosity. They were, simply, and yet, profoundly, part of his quest to understand the diversity of the people who inhabit the hills and valleys whose histories were so vastly differently from the Indian mainland, and a gesture of appreciation, particularly to the Naga hill tribes whose generosity his father, Richard Bartholomew, had experienced first-hand when, as a young boy, he had to trek with his family of Burmese refugees into India. Bartholomew’s intimate engagement with the Northeast continued for ten years, despite his frenetic career as a photojournalist.

      Coded Elegance constitutes a mere fragment of Bartholomew’s extensive visual anthropological documentation of the various tribes and people residing in the low Himalayan hills and valleys of Northeast India — a people whose lives are marked by tradition and transition. The series, an off shoot of Marked with Beauty, his 2000 exhibition of rich, color photographs of the many Naga tribes, is influenced by his own collection of portraits of the Darjeeling hill tribes by Johnston and Hoffman, and Irving Penn’s body of work in Papua New Guinea.

      It explores his journey and interaction with tribes in Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, and Nagaland — diverse communities with myriad different languages and dialects — as well as the people inhabiting the valleys in that region. The preservation of their traditional cultures articulated through their dress, rituals, and rites of passage, forms the overarching subject of Coded Elegance.

      “This spectacular coded sense of dress, which incorporates self-woven fabric, headdresses adorned with animal parts, jewelry made from beads, brass, and silver ornaments, markings on the body and face tattoos, is a function of their traditions and it often makes contemporary fashion seem banal, flippant, and pedestrian,” says Bartholomew.

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        SAI Research Affiliates, 2014-2015

        The SAI Research Affiliates Program supports researchers and faculty each year at Harvard whose area of interest is South Asia.  Research Affiliates contribute to the academic study of South Asia on campus by bringing their expertise on a wide range of issues to the University.

        Research Affiliates, 2014-2015:


        Fauzia E. Ahmed, Assistant Professor, Sociology and Women’s Studies,Miami University of Ohio

        Fauzia E. Ahmed has worked with development programs and policies for low-income families in a variety of countries, including the United States. Early community-based experiences with the African American population, in health and education, enhanced her subsequent work with Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) in India, Indonesia, Thailand, and her native Bangladesh. Her research interests include masculinity and microcredit, gender, globalization, and Islam, and informal justice systems.
        Her current research focuses on the garment industry in Bangladesh. After the collapse of the Rana Plaza garment factory in 2013, which killed over 1,100 workers in April 2013, Dr. Ahmed returned to Bangladesh to conduct a pilot study. As a SAI Research Affiliate, she will investigate how intersections of gender and globalization impact governance and workers’ well-being in the garment industry in various countries in South Asia.


        Gabrielle Kruks-Wisner, Assistant Professor of Political Science, Boston College

        Gabrielle Kruks-Wisner joined Boston College’s Political Science Department in 2013. Prior to joining BC, Gabrielle was an Academy Scholar at the Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies at Harvard University. She earned her doctorate in Political Science and a Masters in International Development Planning from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and a B.A. in Sociology and Anthropology from Swarthmore College.

        Gabrielle’s interests lie in comparative politics and the political economy of development. Her research focuses on issues of political participation, local governance, and social welfare in developing countries, with an emphasis on South Asian and Indian politics. Her current book manuscript, Claiming the State: Citizens’ Mobility & Demand for Public Services in Rural India, asks whether and how marginalized citizens of the world’s largest democracy make claims on the state for essential public services. In so doing, the book explores variation in local citizen-state relations and patterns of participation and representation. Other, related research examines the evolution of grassroots politics in rural India, exploring the shifting nature of democratic and citizenship practices in the face of political, institutional, and economic change. Gabrielle’s research has been supported by the Fulbright Program, the National Science Foundation, and the Boren Fellowship.Gabrielle teaches courses on Indian politics; comparative politics of development; state-society relations; and grassroots politics.


        Hasna MoududVisiting Fellow, Ash Center, Harvard Kennedy School, Harvard University, 2012-2014

        Moudud is currently a Visiting Fellow at the Ash Center at Harvard Kennedy School, and was previously a fellow at the Harvard Asia Center. Moudud served as an Elected Member of Parliament in Bangladesh from 1987 to 1989. An advocate of environmental issues, Moudud created a committee of non-partisan parliamentarians representing coastal constituencies working to highlight the tough problems of coastal ecosystems in Bangladesh. As Chairman of a special parliamentary committee on coastal area and environment, she submitted guidelines for a Master Action Plan for saving the fragile coastal ecosystems and marine environment leading to an improvement of the quality of life of the people of coastal areas. She has been campaigning for the regional acceptance and implementation of environmental standards modelled on the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. She spearheaded efforts both within the parliament and among the public to promote environmental awareness and the involvement of women in environmental issues. She was Vice President of the Global 500 Forum in 1992, a UN environmental program that recognizes and honors environmental and humanitarian achievement.


          Kailash Satyarthi and Malala Yousafzai win Nobel Peace Prize

          The Harvard South Asia Institute is thrilled to hear the news that Kailash Satyarthi of India and Malala Yousafzai of Pakistan have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for 2014 for their incredible efforts in improving the lives of children worldwide.

          Kailash Satyarthi has followed in Gandhi’s footsteps in promoting peaceful and nonviolent means to ending the grave exploitation of children and promoting children’s rights. Malala Yousafzai became an international spokesperson for the right of girls to education after being shot by the Taliban.

          “We should, in our own small way as the South Asia Institute, capitalize on the attention towards these important social issues that these Peace Prize awards will generate,” said Tarun Khanna, Director of SAI and Jorge Paulo Lemann Professor, Harvard Business School. ”SAI does a lot of work on gender-related issues, and increasingly on education of children, and it behooves us to redouble those efforts.”


          Jacqueline Bhabha

          SAI spoke with Jacqueline Bhabha, FXB Director of Research, Professor of the Practice of Health and Human Rights at the Harvard School of Public Health, the Jeremiah Smith Jr. Lecturer in Law at Harvard Law School, and an Adjunct Lecturer in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School, whose own research focuses on human rights, trafficking, and gender in South Asia, on the significance of the awards.

          SAI: What do you think stands out about the work that these two figures have done, that got the attention of the Nobel Peace Prize committee?

          Jacqueline Bhabha: I think what’s really interesting is that on the one hand you have somebody [Satyarthi] who is a mature, seasoned human rights activist, who is well known to people working on child labor, and child exploitation for decades, and has really been in the trenches and has taken enormous personal risk and sacrifices to carry on the work he has done with a range of different strategies: working with trade unions, mentoring children, and using the courts. He has been a tremendously creative and inventive human rights advocate.

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            Contemporary South Asia Student Blog: Technology and Education

            This is the second blog post in a series from students enrolled in the course ‘Contemporary South Asia: Entrepreneurial Solutions to Intractable Social and Economic Problems taught by SAI Director Tarun Khanna. The course features several modules on issues facing South Asia: Urbanism, Technology and Education, Health, and Humanities.

            This week’s focus: Technology and Education, with Tarun Khanna, Director of SAI, Jorge Paulo Lemann Professor, Harvard Business School

            By Siddarth Nagaraj, MALD Candidate, The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy,Tufts University

            Following our module on urbanism, we shifted toward closer scrutiny of social entrepreneurship and technology in South Asia. Our new module began this week with a lecture by Professor Khanna in which he challenged us to ponder the extent to which technological transmission of information can replace traditional means of teaching.

            In the case of South Asia, the gap between the two often seems extreme. Whereas the educational videos of organizations such as Khan Academy and Udacity are viewed by hundreds of millions worldwide and have catalyzed a growing industry focused on remote learning, the subcontinent remains beset by formal education systems that serve their students appallingly.

            During our brief reflection upon technology and education, we questioned whether those responsible for teaching future generations of South Asia can learn from the successes of these programs, or whether it is time for their responsibilities to be passed on fully to technologically based alternatives.

            Partly due to the work of groups like Khan Academy and Udacity, technology is increasingly being regarded as both a means of learning information and a source of knowledge. Students and supporters praise such organizations for their reliability, the diversity and quality of courses offered and the ability of their lessons to be used according to individual learning preferences.

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              The future of nutrition

              Faculty and students at the 2013 nutrition course in Banglaore

              Nutrition is crucial to global health. Emerging demographic, economic and dietary factors suggest that a large burden of preventable illness is poised to develop in India requiring training for a new cadre of Indian nutrition scientists. There is a great need for nutrition researchers in the country, but few training programs exist.

              In response to this critical gap in training, the Bangalore Boston Nutrition Collaborative (BBNC) was initiated in 2009 to connect faculty at St. John’s Research Institute in Bangalore (SJRI) with colleagues at Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) and Tufts University in Boston.

              The Collaborative was designed to build capacity and to provide research training for young professionals in the fields of nutrition and global health from India, and subsequently other countries in the region.

              Lead by Dr. Christopher Duggan, Associate Professor in the Department of Nutrition, HSPH, Director, Center for Nutrition at Boston Children’s Hospital, the BBNC was awarded the Obama-Singh 21st Century Knowledge Initiative award in 2013, an award that aims to strengthen collaboration and builds partnerships between American and Indian institutions of higher education in priority fields.

              SAI supports the project, as its goals align with SAI’s own vision of interdisciplinary collaboration to seek innovative solutions to critical issues in South Asia.

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                Student Profile: Sanskrit study, From Varanasi to Harvard

                Radhika Blinderman comes to Harvard after 13 years of Sanskrit study, and plans to analyze the most innovative figure in the philosophy of Indian language.

                While most children her age were content to learn nursery rhymes, Radhika Blinderman, PhD Candidate, Department of South Asian Studies, was learning Sanskrit shlokas and Indian classical music.

                Learning shlokas in a language she did not yet understand did not discourage her from developing a deep appreciation for Sanskrit. “I didn’t have a clue what it meant, but it just sounded so nice to me,” she says.

                While a child growing up in India, Blinderman’s desire to study Sanskrit came when she “first became conscious about language,” at a very young age, and she continued to study the language, leading to a fascination with pre-colonial India. “It’s ancient India that fascinates me, and that I live in in my imagination,” she says.

                After studying the language for 13 years and obtaining a Bachelor’s degree in Sanskrit in India, she has carried this passion to Harvard, where she is in her first year of the PhD program in South Asian Studies.

                Blinderman has ambitious goals for her time at Harvard. She plans to use her language skills to examine pre-colonial linguistic theories from Varanasi. More specifically, she intends to study the work of 18th century scholar Nagesa Bhatta, who she explains as “the most innovative grammarian of all time, and the last one to exist.”

                “I want to analyze, from the point of view of intellectual history, why he was the most innovative, and how tradition accepted him as his own, in spite of his innovative ideas, and later, rejected other intellectuals, for exactly the same reason – being bold and innovative,” she says. “I want to answer the question of why tradition accepts someone, and rejects others.”

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