Space Race – Great Beginnings, Tragic Endings
After the Indian mission on the Moon, a lot of questions have been asked about the
performance of Pakistan Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission (SUPARCO) ,
without realizing the fact that Pakistan was , once , far ahead of its counterparts in space race.
SUPARCO started its space missions in early 60s way before moon landings by USA or (then)
USSR. It was the first in Asia to launch rockets in space. On 7th of June, 1962 , the initial rocket
Rehbar-I , powered by solid fuel, marked SUPARCO's entry into rocketry. Over the span of a
decade, from 1962 to 1972, Pakistan conducted nearly 200 launches of various models of
sounding rockets. Among these launches, twenty-four were attributed to the Rehbar series.
Surprising is the fact that Pakistani scientists played an elementary contribution in the US
Apollo program. However, the decline came insidiously which, unfortunately, resulted in our
tragic performance in space race. There were several reasons.
The first blow to our progress was the tragedy of East Pakistan which threatened our survival
and changed priorities. To crown it , the "Peaceful Nuclear Explosive", usually referred to as the
Smiling Buddha was conducted on 18 May 1974 by India. This forced us to take drastic
measures: creating our own atomic bomb. As a result , space program changed rocket boosters
for launching missiles rather than satellites.
Moreover, Pakistan, like many developing countries, has limited financial and technological
resources to allocate to its space program. Developing advanced space technologies and
conducting space missions require substantial investments. Similarly, Political instability within
Pakistan has always shifted priorities. Frequent changes in leadership and government disrupt
long-term planning and the continuity of projects. Then come the economic woes of Pakistan.
NASA has the budget of $32 billion and ISRO has $2 billion- where does Pakistan stand? More
immediate needs like healthcare, education, and infrastructure development drains all the
financial resources. As ill luck would have it , brain drain–specially the flight of skilled
professionals in fields related to space technology– is the last straw that broke the camel’s
Indeed, the progress of nations is often closely linked to advancements in science and
technology. And science can only progress when our institutions promote critical thinking – the
ability (and courage) to ask questions. When it is discouraged, no progressive thinking can
survive in our country, sans any space mission. Presently, the only hope is our leadership. If our
leaders decide to make history, the nation can once again “ eat grass , and even go hungry , but
it will develop its own …”
But if gold rusts, what can iron do?