A space lift and cyber drag

India successfully sent a mission to Mars even as people realised that nothing is private in cyber space
Roopinder Singh

Mission Mars: Mangalyaan, India's low-cost Mars orbiter, blasted off in November. It left Earth's orbit and is on its way to the Red Planet. India is now seen as a major budget player in the global space raceINDIA launched a successful bid to enter the exclusive Mars club, even as it commissioned a small submarine-based nuclear reactor, as well as a large one to provide electrical power.

The country also realised how exposed it was in the cyber world. Yet, even as people reeled under revelations about powerful electronic surveillance, they continued to buy more gadgets and devote more time to online activities.

It was an exciting year for tech companies. Tablets became slimmer (iPad Air); laptops lighter (Razor Blade, Chrome book), phones more competent (Galaxy S4), and most of all, high-performance chips became thrifty in using power, while delivering better performance (Intel’s 4th Gen core processors).

Wearable tech became real with Google Glasses and Samsung Galaxy Gear smart watch. Google Chromecast neatly integrated TV with the Internet. Yet, what shook up the world was a series of leaks by Edward Snowden, an American who worked for the US National Security Agency. The data, stolen from NSA, revealed several secret US surveillance programs like PRISM, NSA call database, and Boundless Informant, the British-run Tempora, and Bullrun.

The exposure damaged US’ relations with several countries. India, too, was targeted by various programmes. While Microsoft, Google and Yahoo scrambled to assure sceptical consumers that their cyber activities were secure, lakhs of Amazon users found out that their security had been compromised by something as mundane as leaked passwords. As the year ended, a US$ 4 billion Boeing deal with Brazil was scuttled, in part because of President Dilma Rousseff’s ire at spying.

The phone continued to be a part of smartphone, which took different hues-many like Nokia’s Lumia 1020 and Samsung S4 Zoom, became cameras that also make calls. Producing 41 megapixel camera phones, Lumia effortlessly retained its top spot.

Apple 5S took the biometric route and used fingerprints as the means to control access the smartphone. Cloud computing became mainstream; everyone wanted touch screens, even on laptops. Tablets continued to evolve into ever-svelte forms, with iPad Air setting new standards.

Scientifically speaking, we discovered Kepler-62f, an Earth-size planet in the habitable zone of a star about 1,200 light-years from the Earth; cloned human embryonic stem cells and saw the Voyager 1, launched in 1977, reach interstellar space.

In India, we cut a wire that had, for long, been a means of communication — the telegraph became history after 162 years of heroic service. With wireless connectivity increasing in leaps and bounds, it is time for a change, many would say.

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) took a tremendous leap with the successful launch and progress of Mangalyaan, the mission to Mars.

India’s first interplanetary mission is seen as a “technology demonstrator”. ISRO has had a great year, and the mission to Mars has helped to establish its credentials of launching space missions in such a cost-effective manner that it is the envy of many other nations.

In the process, India became the first Asian power to launch a successful space mission on its 300-day journey to Mars. The mission is scheduled to reach Mars next year, but it has already gone further than recent missions by other countries.

Even as India banked on the continued success of its PSLVs, the Defence Research and Development Organisation, successfully demonstrated a range of defence missiles, including the long- range Nirbhay, the supersonic cruise missile BrahMos and the Agni II, Agni V, Pithvi II, etc.

On the satellite front, the advanced multi-band communication satellite GSAT-7 was put into orbit for defence needs, while INSAT-3D is a meteorological satellite, IRNSS-1A is for navigation and Saral is for oceanographic study.

The nuclear reactor on INS Arihant was energised. It has gone critical, taking the country closer to being the only one, other than the big five, to have a nuclear submarine. On the civilian front, Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant (KNPP) in Tamil Nadu was finally energised.

Who says we can’t innovate. A Malihabad-based nursery said that it had reared a variety of mangoes that was “sugar-free”. Any volunteers for the taste test?

This article was published in the 2013 Yearend Special titled: Year of Corrosion


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