Space: India-US Cooperation or Competition in the offing? Monday, Oct 27 2008 

Orbital paths of mission to Moon (Chandrayaan)

Orbital paths of mission to Moon (Chandrayaan)

While the present U. S. administration and U. S. Space agency NASA are for cooperation with India in space exploration, the U. S. Presidential candidate Barack Obama is for competition.

While the White House and the U. S. suppliers hailed India’s entry into the Lunar Orbit, Mr. Obama told a public gathering that the U. S. should take increasing competence of India and China in space exploration seriously and spur up its space programme to keep the lead.

“As President, I will lead our space programme boldly into the 21st century – so when my daughters, and all our children, look up to the skies, they see Americans leading the way into the deepest reaches of our solar system,” Mr. Obama said stressing the need to revitalise U. S. space programme.

Whether this is election rhetoric and a position that would yield to business interests, once he is in power, is a million dollar question. In any case, a space deal with the United States after nuclear deal would be more difficult if Mr. Obama comes to power. Besides, India has signed up with Russia for supply of some crucial equipment for Chandrayaan II. (My earlier post on the subject stands amended thus.)

It is notable that while the White House described the successful launch of the Moon mission as exciting and encouraging for India, the United States India Business Council celebrated India’s debut on a Moon mission that carries two US instruments on board. The Council, representing 280 of the largest US companies investing in India, described the mission as the beginning of long “relationship promoting the opening of the frontier of outer space.”

American supplier of defence and space equipments Raytheon supplied some of the instrumentation for Chandrayaan.

After the nuclear deal, a space deal? Wednesday, Oct 15 2008 

After the nuclear deal, India appears to be heading for a space deal with the United States.

India and the United States are already collaborating in prospecting for water in the Moon as part of the Chandrayaan I Mission. It is significant that the focus of the  Mission is on the South pole of the Moon where the United States plans to set up a base by 2020.

Four instruments on the Chandrayaan satellite—two from the United States and one from Germany, are aimed at detecting water in the craters of the Lunar South Pole, among other things. The Moon impact probe, developed by the Vikram Sabarabhai Space Centre in Kerala, will also be colliding with the rim of the Shackleton crater on the South Pole.

Detection of water in the South Pole could be tremendous boost for plans to set up an outpost on the Moon as space agencies would not have to look elsewhere for drinking water and oxygen and hydrogen (which can be produced through electrolysis of water and can be used as fuel.) The South Pole is also blessed with almost round the clock perennial sunlight, which could power the camps.

As both the United States and India are prospecting the rim of Shackleton crater, it could be only for two things— collaboration or competition. The former is more likely and India could actually be catering to the United States.

The United States has in the past thwarted India’s attempt to obtain cryogenic technology from the Soviet Union and an order for launching a Taiwanese satellite. However, current political milieu points towards collaboration in space. It is also not easy for nations to compete in space exploration and prospecting for minerals because of the costs involved. So, it is likely that nations with some capability for space exploration would prefer to have an agreement for sharing of resources as in the case of Antarctica.

Related: Chandrayaan looking to help establish lunar bases

The Left will not dump the Government Friday, Jul 4 2008 

Capital city

Central Secretariat

The Left will not dump the Government (KeralaViews said earlier that it might dump the Congress.) It will wait for the Congress to strike a deal with the Samajvadi party before it withdraws support to the UPA, thus paving way for the nuclear deal with the United States. If it had withdrawn support earlier, the Government may have fallen. If the left parties really wanted to prevent the nuclear deal, it would have withdrawn support without notice so that the Congress would have little time to come to understandings with other parties.

Most parties do not want an election now. Congress and the Left is parting ways because of electoral exigencies. They need a lead-time before they face the electorate with opposing arguments. The so-called crisis over nuclear deal also helps both the Congress-led and CPI-M led governments to divert attention from price rise, inflation and other issues.

Otherwise, one should be wondering why the Congress was risking its government for a deal with the United States that is no way crucial for the country. Nothing particular is going to happen if India did not sign the deal. India had developed its nuclear assets on its own. In fact, the performance of the Atomic Energy Department was better that the Indian Space Research Organisation. While the latter brought, adapted or copied rocket technology from other countries, the former developed the nuclear technology on its own. If at all India wants more nuclear power plants, it has the technical capability to do so. It also has the raw materials. Only, the capital needs to be found.

Even if the deal would help the energy sector more than indigenous efforts, nuclear plants could become a liability on account of the decommissioning costs and problems in disposal of wastes. Being a vast country, India has several alternative sources of energy waiting to be tapped.

US, India, China and oil prices Thursday, May 8 2008 

The United States has spawned another debate after the one over food scarcity. It rightly points out that increased fuel consumption in India and China is one of the reasons for increase in crude oil prices. Yes, it is just one of the reasons.

But, the steep rise in oil prices began with American invasion of Iraq (See BBC report), and it is yet to end. Many have opined that the US attacked Iraq for oil and for fear of fall in value of dollar. (Reasons cited by the U. S. itself like presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and Saddam’s terrorist links have since been disproved.)

The attack, apparently, only accentuated the problems. Increase in price of oil and fall of dollar is yet to be checked. Crude oil prices have increased from less than 30 dollars a barrel to more than 120 dollars a barrel. (Along with that terrorism shows no let up in Iraq. But the biggest failure of the U. S. in the Middle East is its failure to contain oil prices. The Arabs have beaten Bush in his neoconservative enterprise in the Gulf.)

Some facts should speak for itself (from the CIA Fact Book)
America with less than one third of the population of India consumes 20.8 million barrels of oil a day. This is eight times the consumption of India and one fourth of the world consumption. India consumes only 2.4 million barrels a day. European Union comes next to the U. S. with daily consumption of 14.7 million barrels. China is third with about 6.5 million barrels a day (in 2005).

US president, Indian middle class and food scarcity Monday, May 5 2008 

Statue of LibertyThe U. S. President George Bush’s statement that prosperity of Indian middle class has led to spiraling of global food prices have attracted strong criticism in India. The communists in Kerala were the most vociferous.

However, the critics of Bush’s statement have reacted somewhat superficially, ignoring some hard facts. The first point is that there is some truth in what Bush is saying. Second is that it is not just diversion of good grains for fuel production that is harming the world most, but subsidies for bio fuels.

It would be very difficult to stop a shift from food crops to bio fuel crops if bio fuel is cheaper (and not less efficient) than other fuels. Laws or policy prescriptions would have very little effect on such a shift worldwide. Ultimately, markets would determine the balance. What governments should do is not to subsidize bio fuel crops and subsidize food crops. Subsidy for food is important as survival of many depend on it. The Western nations are doing a grave crime against humanity by subsidizing production of fuel from grains.

However, it is to be noted that countries outside the US and Europe also offer subsidies that harm food production. Let us look at Kerala State for instance. What Bush says had happened here much before. People had gone for tapioca at times of poverty and scarcity. With prosperity and increased availability of rice, they switched back to rice. The State could have retained some of the area under tapioca and gone for fuel production (alcohol) without much effect on rice production. But that did not happen for want of viable technologies and investment.

On the other hand, rice paddies were steadily being converted from the seventies to garden lands with coconut, banana, areacanut, rubber or other crops. The Rubber Board subsidized replanting of rubber. There were subsidies for other crops also. But sufficient subsidies and work culture was not there to ensure the retention of paddy cultivation in many areas. So, the food deficit of the State kept on worsening. Higher prices for rice could make paddy cultivation increasingly profitable and stem the tide of conversion of the paddies. But the poor ought to get rice at affordable prices. So, targeted subsidies are justified. At the same time, there should be mechanisms to check price rise resulting from shortages and prevent the budget of the middle class from going haywire.

All subsidies, whether it is to the farmer or others, ultimately go to the consumer. Subsidy for rubber benefits the tyre manufacturer. Subsidy for biofuel benefits large consumers the most. Subsidy for food benefits all (and somewhat equitably since you cannot eat more than a stomach’s full), but the poor would benefit most.

Americans and most of the Westerners are heavy users of energy. They waste a lot of resources, ranging from energy to toilet papers. So, they are basically responsible for all the shortages in the world. To be more precise, all those who waste resources across the world are responsible.

Incidentally, Keralites have achieved quality of life on par with many Western nations by using comparatively lesser resources. (See Wikipedia article)

For further reading:

US eats 5 times more than India per capita

Global Agricultural Supply and Demand: Factors Contributing to the Recent Increase in Food Commodity Prices (U. S. Economic Research Service; 05/01/08 )

Matters of scale: into the toilet
Toilet paper consumption in US and elsewhere

Food crisis payback for ’20 years of mistakes’: UN expert

UN Says US, EU Biofuel Production Irresponsible

Political parties criticize Bush’s remarks

Kerala Model

Why blame India
Interesting facts about projected increase in food consumption