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Pakistan’s ICUBE-Q satellite is set to be transported by China’s Chang’e 6 spacecraft, scheduled to depart from Hainan, China, today, May 3rd, 2024, at 1250 PST of China’s time. The ICUBE-Q CubeSat is part of the payload of Chang’e 6 and will orbit the moon to detect traces of ice on its surface from orbit.

Developed by the Institute of Space Technology (IST) in Pakistan, this miniaturized satellite, known as a CubeSat, is equipped with two optical cameras designed to capture detailed images of the lunar surface.

If successful, the data collected by this miniature satellite will provide valuable insights into the moon’s topography, geological features, and potential resource deposits.

Though a good beginning, Pakistan’s space programme is currently minuscule compared to that of its neighbor, India, in several aspects. India has achieved milestones such as landing on the moon with Chandrayaan-3, reaching Mars with Mangalyaan, launching a record number of satellites, and developing reliable launch vehicles, mission to study the sun’s corona, accomplishments that Pakistan has not yet matched.

Perhaps it was India’s extraordinary ability, teamwork, cohesive leadership, and vision in pursuing its space programme that may have prompted SUPARCO to show signs of life.

But Pakistan’s institutional capacity is still too low and fragile, and its human resources are often unimaginative and regimented. This lack of capacity hinders meaningful progress without relying on foreign assistance.

Pakistan’s space research and development programme has been influenced by several visionary leaders.

Abdus Salam, although not directly involved, advocated for scientific advancement in the country, laying the groundwork for future endeavors. Dr. Riazuddin, a prominent physicist, contributed to Pakistan’s nuclear and space programmes, aiding in the establishment of SUPARCO.

Dr. Abdus Salam Khan, as SUPARCO chairman from 1996 to 2001, oversaw the launch of Pakistan’s first indigenously developed satellite, Badr-A. Dr. Arshad Ali Hakeem, SUPARCO chairman from 2001 to 2006, facilitated the launch of satellites for communication and remote sensing. These leaders have collectively shaped Pakistan’s space programme, contributing to its progress and achievements in space exploration.

Since 2010 Pakistan’s Space Research program has been headed by the army. In 2010 Major General Ahmed Bilal was appointed as SUPARCO head, he was succeeded by Major-General Qaiser Anees Khurran in 2016, followed by Major-General Amer Nadeen in 2018 and who however succeed by. Muhammad Yusuf Khan in 2023, first civilian after 14 years.

Though Pakistan had an early start in the 1960s, launching a sounding rocket before India, but could not sustain its momentum thanks to our legendary callous attitude towards matters of national building, our lack of a long-term vision, mission, or clear milestones for tangible achievements, our hardened habit of achieving flashy innovations or accomplishments, only to later desecrate, humiliate, and insult those behind such achievements.

This behaviour stems from our internal and external institutional incompetencies, which distort our earlier gains and lead us back into a state of inertia and status quo. We then slip back into a deep sleep, only to be awakened by the wake-up calls from other countries, especially India.

Pakistan’s space programme can achieve great success only if we start honoring our scientific pioneers, establishing a clear vision and mission, and ensuring adequate resource allocation.

Building state-of-the-art research facilities, cultivating a skilled workforce, and appointing competent, qualified, relevant and inspiring leaders are essential steps. Political will and support is crucial for prioritizing the program and securing necessary funding.

International collaborations can also enhance Pakistan’s capabilities. By adopting a strategic approach and investing in space research, Pakistan can become a key player in the global space arena, bringing pride and prosperity to the nation.

Qamar Bashir

Copyright Business Recorder, 2024

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