Indo-US space relation ready for lift-off: NASA chief to NDTV

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NASA chief General Charles Bolden at NASA headquarters in Washington DC

Washington DC:  The world's foremost space exploration agency, the NASA from America, and the Indian space agency ISRO are today engaged in an intense dialogue to explore the last frontier of space together. In a first for Indian television, the chief of NASA, General Charles Bolden gave an extended exclusive interview to NDTV's Pallava Bagla at the agency's headquarters in Washington DC and explained how it was supporting India's upcoming maiden mission to Mars.

NDTV: You have an Indian mission to go up to Mars later this year called Mangalyaan or the Mars orbiting mission. You have the Maven mission from NASA which is also going up. Both are atmospheric study missions. Is it exciting to have two countries independently going to Mars?

General Charles Bolden: It's always exciting to have as many countries as possible participating in exploration efforts, particularly Mars. We were with Curiosity. We were able to carry along five other nations with us. If you look at the structure here, for example, this is made by the Spanish astrobiology centre, and it's a weather station. It has anemometer. It measures ground and air temperatures on Mars. The radiation experiment there is contributed by the Russians. We have British experiments. It is exciting to have the United States and India join together and now getting ready to do more studies on Mars's atmosphere with MAVEN (Mars Atmospheric and Volatile Evolution) that we're launching later in November looking at the upper atmosphere of Mars, a place that we don't know a lot about. Your mission is going to be looking at Martian atmosphere. We're providing support through communications, data and other types of...

NDTV: So NASA is supporting India for the mission?

General Charles Bolden: We are in partnership. We're providing communication support as well as navigation support, so fantastic.

NDTV: A good focus for NASA today is the asteroid initiatives. So can you expect India and the NASA to try to work together in ensuring that the humanity doesn't become extinct like the dinosaurs?

General Charles Bolden: Yeah. When I was over in Delhi in a meeting with my counterpart - they are from ISRO - they were excited about the asteroid initiatives and the potential for cooperation between ISRO and NASA.

NDTV: Tell us a little bit about what do you want to do in the asteroid initiatives.

General Charles Bolden: What we would like to do cooperatively with India, specifically in the asteroid initiatives is, the first segment of that is, identifications and characterization of as many earth-threatening asteroids as possible. India is already working with us on that to a limited extent. We would like to see that increase, whether it's ground detectors or space-borne detectors. So that's a definite area that we would continue to work and would like to expand. In terms of the robotic, second segment, which is actually flying a spacecraft to quite long distances, to rendezvous with an asteroid inbound to earth, to actually either capture that asteroid or somewhere interact with it so that we can gradually steer it over a year or a year and a half period of time from its path toward earth, to get it captured by the moon's gravitational field so that it goes to the retrograde lunar order. We hope the Indians would cooperate with us and be a participant in that and there would be an opportunity for them to give us their inputs in September. This coming September, we're having an international asteroid workshop where we would talk about the mission itself, the concept that we have developed and then ask for ideas from our international partners in the industry and academy. So I think the Indian government is also involved in it also.

NDTV: So if you look at the Indian programme, the first rocket which was fired from India, Nike Apache, was an American rocket. The first commercial communication satellite - INSAT 1A - was made in America, launched from America. After that came the nuclear explosion and the two countries became kind of estranged and there was a long hiatus. Do you feel that there was a hiatus in the ties between the two countries?

General Charles Bolden: That was history and what I think is most important is, what people should understand is that in spite of the differences, the two countries have been able to come back together. Two democracies, the largest and the oldest in the world and I think that's important that we show that democracies get things done much more effectively than other forms of government, and the fact that with common goals and aspirations, the world's oldest and largest democracy can work together.

NDTV: Yes, and I also understand NASA is forbidden from working with China by law.

General Charles Bolden: Yeah. In a bilateral old manner, the NASA is not allowed to work with China.

NDTV: On the Indian side, there is a thawing of relations it seems. You're looking at making a radar sat together. For lay people, a radar sat normally means a spy satellite with day and night capability. So from a position where the two democracies were not talking to a position where so-called spy satellites are being made, what is the status of that mission and how soon can we see it?

General Charles Bolden: Well, we're continuing to work with ISRO. There are a number of different satellites in different bandwidths that we're looking at. L-band that is most prominent for us right now because it will potentially enable us to look at what we call the shifting of Earth, what causes earthquakes. ISRO works both - with your military, your defence departments and they are the surveillance space agencies. That's different from NASA. NASA is, we are the surveillance space agency in the United States. We do things that are too used. So in many ways, it's not uncommon on what we do in co-ordination and collaboration with the defence department here in the United States and what ISRO does in India as the person or the organisation's purview of the military space programme.

NDTV: So that was General Charles Bolden telling us that the two democracies, the world's oldest democracy and the world's largest democracy, if they go together, they can really get something from the last frontiers in space.

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