Washington: The relationship between India and the US is absolutely critical on earth and possibly even more so in space, a former top NASA official has said, describing India as a “sleeping giant” for whom the sky is no longer the limit.
Mike Gold, the former associate administrator for Space Policy and Partnerships at NASA, hoped that cooperation in the field of space would be one of the major areas of discussion between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Joe Biden when they meet here at the White House next week.
“The relationship between the United States and India is absolutely critical on earth, and possibly even more so in space. India will soon become the fourth country to be able to launch its citizens into space and is therefore a global leader in the field,” said Gold who is currently Chief Growth Officer of Florida-based Redwire Space.
“Sky is no longer the limit for India,” he told PTI on Thursday.
Gold is considered an architect of the Artemis Accord, a set of agreements that lay out a framework for responsible exploration of the moon.
India is conducting missions to monitor and investigate, explore climate change on the earth through the NASA-ISRO Synthetic Aperture Radar (NISAR) programme, which is a joint project between NASA and ISRO to co-develop and launch a dual-frequency synthetic aperture radar on an earth observation satellite.
“India is going to the moon with a lunar rover, and India is going to the Sun. I think that’s wonderful synergy and balance between both the Sun and a Moon mission that India is conducting.
“And of course, the Gaganyaan mission, the first crew mission that it’s conducting. India has also been extraordinarily innovative relative to implementing these very ambitious space programmes at affordable and low costs,” Gold said.
In this new world of commercial space, it is not enough to execute programmes, but if you can do so in a fashion that is affordable, robust, and still successful, that is extraordinarily important, he said.
India has been leading the way, certainly from a government perspective, in terms of enacting these bold visions and programmes in a fashion that has been very affordable, particularly relative to what occurs in the West, Gold said.
India is clear, successfully leveraging its incredible human capital, he said, adding that it is not rocket fuel that gets missions to space but people and India excels in its people.
“It’s got an incredible human capital base that I believe is what’s allowing India, certainly in part, to be able to execute these ambitious missions in an affordable, effective, and timely fashion,” he said.
Relative to the relationship with the United States, India is becoming and really is already one of the greatest space powers, making the relationship with the US absolutely vital, he said.
India and the US working together on NISAR to gather critical climate data information about the earth is absolutely vital, Gold said.
That is an example of how India and the US together can literally save the world with information that these two space powers can bring together, he said.
“As India moves forward into crew operations, that’s where I hope we can build upon the foundation of collaborations like NISAR in the scientific field to build broad and deep relationships.
“In human space flight. I hope that NASA can cooperate and coordinate with ISRO as much as possible to support India’s human space flight goals in the US generally,” Gold said.
He hoped that the International Space Station would become the destination for Indian astronauts.
There is an incredible opportunity to partner with India because while human space flight is critical and important, wonderful for exploration, inspiration and for science, it requires a destination and a place to go to, he said.
“As we look at where the Indian and US relationship will evolve, it can begin with partnerships with NASA and what’s occurring with the ISS, but in parallel to that, we should be having discussions now between private sector entities and ISRO in regards to leveraging the new wave of commercial space stations that will eventually succeed the ISS,” he said.
The former top NASA official hoped that India joins the ARTEMIS accords as it journeys to the moon.
“Part of the reason that it’s absolutely vital for India to execute the accords is because India is already going to the moon. India is a lunar country. The purpose of the accords is to ensure that we have a peaceful and prosperous future in space,” he said.
“I believe that India is a sleeping giant when it comes to commercial space. You have amazing amounts of human capital, of manufacturing capacity that when applied to commercial space could be transformative, not just for India, but for the entire commercial space sector,” Gold said.
Redwire Space, he said, is in discussions with an Indian company to explore partnerships of possible manufacturing in India.
“I think any company that isn’t engaged in dialogues to explore potential operations in India is foolish and will regret not doing so,” he said.
Gold, however, said the barrier that many commercial space companies and the private sector, in general, have faced in India is bureaucracy.
There have been challenges relative to the amount of bureaucracy to access public-private partnerships or to work with Indian entities, which is why the reforms and current regulations are so welcome, he said.
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“The only thing holding back India is India. For India to then open up entrepreneurialism, the opportunities for global partnerships in commercial space that I think is going to be transformative.
“And I applaud what Prime Minister Modi and the leadership of ISRO have done to catapult India into the future via the new policies, reforms, and regulations for commercial space,” Gold said.
“It’s extraordinarily exciting not only for India but for all of us in the private sector in America,” he added.
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