India has set its sights on space, as is evident from the pavilion at Expo 2020
India has set its sights on space, as is evident from the pavilion at Expo 2020 Image Credit: Supplied

It’s all there. The colours, the ambiance, the exuberance, the music, the images that fill your head when you conjure up mental images of India – a country that’s perhaps the most diverse in the world when it comes to people, cuisine and culture. However, as you make your way through the India Pavilion at Dubai’s ground-breaking Expo 2020, there are other revelations.

India is the second most populous country in the world – that’s no secret – but more hits home when you set eyes upon the astronomical achievements of this country. Quite literally. Did you know that India is one of the few nations that can launch satellites for way less money than pretty much anyone else in the world? For context, the country launched as many as 104 satellites into space in a time span of 18 minutes in 2017, putting Indian Space Research Office (ISRO), on a par with preeminent organisations such as NASA.

At Expo 2020, the Indian Pavilion is the only one that has a bigger queue of visitors trying to get in than any other pavilion – apart from the UAE, which admittedly has a longer wait time, and understandably so.

Spread over an area of 100,000 sq-ft, the pavilion is divided in four floors covering the various aspects of this vast nation. The dynamic façade showcases the journey of the world’s largest democracy. With over 600 rotating screens, the pavilion showcases three selected stories of the ‘constant change’ and ‘timeless endurance’ of what is quintessential India.

While there is plenty to entertain your average Joe looking to learn more about this South-East Asian behemoth, there are some eye-widening facts that you probably didn’t foresee. For instance the aforementioned space program of the country.

We spoke exclusively to N. Sudheer Kumar, Director, Capacity Building Programme Office, ISRO about the country’s space ambitions showcased at Expo 2020. “India is a diverse country, however, we have much more to offer than the cliched images that seems to ring true with people across the globe. What we also aim to demonstrate is the stellar achievements of the country when it comes to space research and technology. India is being watched closely by other nations that place satellites in orbit, purely owing to the fact that we can launch satellites for substantially less than nearly any competitors in North America and Europe. We have made space accessible to all, if you will,” said Sudheer Kumar.

A walk through the tunnel that projects the country’s space program is a nod to its ambition, backed by one of the biggest economies in the world. In fact, ISRO announced a lower cost program that is expected to launch as many as 500 Polar Satellite Launch Vehicles over the next five years, according to news reports. This is unprecedented.

“Not only are we more cost efficient, we have a rapid turnaround time – we can produce these vehicles in just three weeks. What we are doing will essentially change the game in the so-called space race. But space is not just about satellites, we use this segment to make life better for the common man. For instance, we can inform fishermen where they might find the best catch. Or, help them in their moment of distress,” added Sudheer.

The space program tunnel is a sight to behold. A massive array of high-definition screens, fantastic presentation and information that would certainly encourage a mental rethink of the country and its cliched symbolisms of feature films and curries. It’s likely to strip the visitors’ mind of old imagery and ring in a new perception of the country.

While its centuries old traditions of Yoga and Ayurveda continue to live strong, the India Pavilion showcases a brave new world for the nation. According to Indian news reports, scientists are treating space as an engine of growth. They are focusing heavily on the liberalisation of space – and they are doing it by making space more accessible.

“What you have witnessed here at Expo 2020 in Dubai is just a taster of what we hope to achieve over the next few years. The world is changing and we are here to demonstrate that nothing is out of reach – not even space. We can make it happen. Under the current leadership we are using space to make life better for regular people and improve industries such as agriculture and beyond,” concluded Sudheer.

With concrete facts backing up the claims, it’s difficult to contest any of his claims for now. But, as the old adage goes; we wait and watch. Something tells us though, we wouldn’t quite yet bet against India’s space program.