The Gist of Science Reporter: November 2014
ISRO’s Soaring ROCKET, INDIA’S SOARING PRIDE
The launch of India’s PSLV-C23 rocket was delayed by the
prospect of satellite debris hurtling through space crashing into it. But
eventually the Indian Space Research Organisation’s workhorse Polar Satellite
Launch Vehicle PSLV-C23 lifted off from the First Launch Pad at the Satish
Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota at 9.52 am on 30 June 2014. It carried with
it five satellites from four foreign countries. And between 17 and 19 minutes
after liftoff, the PSLV placed all the five satellites into their intended
The probable space debris was from the 2011 collision of a US
satellite and a Russian satellite at altitudes above 600 km. The two objects
identified three days before the launch were 15 cm to 20 cm across. Travelling
at great speeds, space debris measuring even a few inches across can damage
spacecraft. However, with a delay of three minutes PSLV-C23 successfully avoided
the debris without affecting the mission because it had a launch window period
of 20 minutes. Since debris in space moves at a velocity of several kilometers
per second, by slightly delaying the launch the objects can be avoided by
thousands of kilometers.
With the successful insertion into orbit of all the five
satellites riding on PSLV-C23, ISRO has notched up an impressive total of 40
foreign satellites from 19 countries that it has successfully launched so far,
earning substantial sums of foreign exchange for the country. The countries
include Algeria, Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany,
Indonesia, Israel, Italy, Japan, Korea, Luxembourg, Singapore, Switzerland, The
Netherlands, Turkey and United Kingdom.
The primary payload of PSLV-C23 consisted of the 714 kg
French Earth Observation Satellite SPOT-7. Built by Airbus Defence and Space, a
leading European space technology company, SPOT-7 is identical to SPOT-6
launched earlier by PSLV-C21 in September 2012.
Along with the primary payload, PSLV-C23 also carried and
placed in orbit the 14 kg AISAT, a nano satellite of Germany, for global sea
traffic monitoring. It has been fitted with an array of antennas that will
receive transponder signals during sea rescue operations. Two other satellites
were NLS7.1 (CAN-X4) and NLS7.2 (CAN-X5) of Canada each weighing 15 kg whose
primary objective is researching whether satellites can be designed to
facilitate sub-metre tracking error accuracy. And finally, PSLV-C23 also placed
into orbit the 7 kg VELOX-1 of Singapore, which is a technology demonstrator for
the Singapore-based Nanyang Technological University’s Undergraduate Satellite
Program, designed to provide students with real-world aerospace experience.
The textbook precision launch of the five satellites on board PSLV-C23 has
once again reinforced ISRO’s commanding position as a leading space agency in
the world, making India proud.
Menthol Cigarettes Also Harmful
More and more young people are choosing menthol cigarette
today with the belief that it is safer than non-menthol cigarette. However,
menthol cigarettes too are known to cause diseases like lung cancer,
cardiovascular diseases (atherosclerosis, coronary heart disease, arrhythmias)
and respiratory diseases (lung cancer, chronic bronchitis etc).
A recent study published in Cancer Causes and Control found
that menthol users smoked an average of 43 cigarettes a week, close to double
the 26 smoked by non-menthol users. The study also found that menthol smokers
are more addictive than non-menthol smokers. While smoking menthol cigarettes,
the pleasant, cooling sensation causes the user to inhale more tobacco smoke
with each drag. Menthol smokers thereby take in high concentration of nicotine
than non-menthol smokers. As a result, menthol cigarette smokers may have higher
frequency of smoking related sicknesses and become more quickly addicted and
also may smoke more cigarettes than those who smoke non-mentholated cigarettes.
Smoking poses a big risk especially among those who start
smoking cigarettes regularly in their teenage years. It also harms people who
are exposed to it passively. Menthol cigarettes have also been shown to inhibit
nicotine metabolisation, leading to increased systemic nicotine exposure.
Two Day Seminar at NIAS, Banglore When Science Meets the Public: Bridging
A Politician once famously exhorted his followers not to vote
for the ruling party since the dam it had built had squeezed out all energy from
the water. Yet another chief minister is known to have consulted an astrologer
when a super cyclone was heading towards the shores. The astrologer predicted
that the cyclone would break into two and so there was nothing to worry about.
Hundreds died as the cyclone hit the state.
Last year, despite serious misgivings about unplanned
development in the hills and innumerable reports to that effect, the
establishment took note only when a disaster struck Uttarkashi and thousands
lost their lives. And, of course, even today we keep reading and hearing about
people flocking to pay obeisance to fake sadhus and babas who have a penchant
for irrational, unscientific and totally ridiculous utterances.
Despite mastering the most advanced mobile phones easily the
public still remains confused whether transgenic technology is good or bad,
whether nuclear reactors will solve our energy issues or create new radiation
hazards, and whether development at all cost is advisable. Policy makers and
lawmakers too continue to move ahead with unscientific development projects.
Where does the problem lie?
Engaging the civil society has become increasingly essential
also because the public has today become sceptical of government communication,
said Dr K. Kasturirangan, former member, Planning Commission, in his inaugural
address. This is clearly demonstrated by the public outcry over stem cells, GM
crops and nuclear reactors, he said. He cited the example of the Chandrayaan-1
project as a case of extremely successful engagement with the public that
generated strong “trust plus” in contrast to “deficit plus”. There was a need,
he said, for independent communication agencies to engage with public bodies.
But do we have any idea of the belief systems and the
scientific bent of mind of the citizens of such a large country like India with
mindboggling diversities of language, culture, topography, social strata,
educational status and so on? Gauhar Raza from CSIR-NISCAIR pointed out that no
national level study had been carried out so far in India to gauge the level of
scientific awareness of the Indian populace. Science communication and
scientific awareness programmes will have to be designed based on such an
understanding, he said. Once people develop an understanding of scientific
issues it is easier to take them along. This was beautifully exemplified in a
presentation by Magsaysay Award winner Rajendra Singh. Singh said development
work of the urban psyche involves displacement of water, soil, forests, people,
etc. But local development work involves development of local resources. He
recounted how he managed to create awareness in the villagers of Gopalpura in
Alwar district of Rajasthan about their problems and the need to look for local
solutions rather than depend on government aid. This led to building of
embankments to store water, consequently raising the water level in dry wells
and rejuvenating rivers. An excellent example of a communication initiative that
yielded sustainable results.
Another issue that was raised by several speakers related to
the lack of accessibility of information from scientific organisations and
agencies. This is a problem often faced by journalists. The issue was raised by
T.V. Jayan from The Telegraph, a Kolkata- based newspaper and TV Padma from
SciDev.net, an online science news portal. Why this should be the case is
somehow difficult to understand. On the contrary, scientific organisations,
departments and agencies need to be professionally and ethically mandated to
engage the public with the scientific projects they work on and the scientific
products they roll out.
Perhaps, therefore, apart from bridging the gap with the
public what is also required is bridging the gap between scientists and
journalists. Mechanisms need to be worked out to foster greater networking and
interaction between the scientific and the journalistic communities.
Throughout the two days of the seminar, however, there seemed
to be no doubt that more efforts were required to engage the public with science
at different forums. Of course, India can boast of a number of science
communication initiatives, both at the national level as well as the regional
level. However, these efforts are widely scattered. There has hardly been any
effort to bring together such programmes and projects to amplify their
effectiveness on a large scale.
Perhaps there is a need to chalk out a national science
communication policy or strategy. Such a national policy or strategy could bring
together all scientific departments, organisations and universities to forge
effective science communication initiatives. It could also assess the level of
scientific awareness of different segments of the society and devise science
communication programmes accordingly.
It needs to be realised that today public receptivity to
science is high. However, unimaginative and piecemeal efforts at communication
will only transform this receptivity into serious misgivings about science. At
the same time, effective communication programmes hold the potential to increase
receptivity among the public for critical and national scientific projects and
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