SUPARCO – An Obituary

Posted: April 25, 2017 in Uncategorized

It was the time when state of Pakistan had not yet started to distinguish its citizens based on faith. Apollo 11 was under construction or in the final stages of testing and humans had not yet landed on the moon.  The race to conquer the space, between USA and Soviet Union, was in full swing. Soviet Union was leading by launching the Sputnik 1 (on Friday, October 4, 1957, at exactly 10:28:34 pm Moscow time) and surprising the world by sending first manned mission into the space (on April 12, 1961). Eight years later humans landed on the moon on 20 July 1969. Later, seven Astronauts visited Pakistan from June 17-19, 1973.

How good were those days?

One may sit back, relax with a glass of cold Rooh Afza, turn news channels off which are airing the breaking news that total budget for science and technology is less than 1KM of Metro Bus and ponder upon the vision of those Pakistanis who worked hard to make Pakistan the first country to start a Space Program of its own in the region. Imagine that moment; Nobel Laureate Professor Abdus Salam convincing the then President, Ayub Khan, to commence the Space Program of Pakistan and president issuing an executive order on September 16, 1961 to Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) to form Space Sciences Research Wing. Thus SUPRACO coming into existence (though not named SUPARCO until 16 September 1964, when SUPARCO started working independent of PAEC).

Pakistani scientists were sent to USA for training by NASA engineers. Epoch-making event for this nascent organization arrived on 07 June 1962 at 1953 hours, when Rahbar series rockets were launched from the Pakistani soil. Yes, you read it right. It was launched from the Pakistani soil at Sonmiani making the country member of those privileged countries’ league who had this technology i.e. USA, USSR, UK, France, Sweden, Italy, Canada, Japan and Israel.  SUPARCO launched Badar I and Badar II, on 16 July 1990 and 10 Dec 2001 respectively and that too from foreign soils. Until then everything seemed going in the considerable right direction.  After that, SUPARCO’s website is silent about satellite program.

Other countries in the region started their space program after that of Pakistan’s are showing to the world their might by either making a world record of launching most number of satellites or by Mars Missions. The answer to this question is hidden somewhere in the SUPARCO website, which states that, “SUPARCO remained under the administrative control of the Cabinet Division until September 2000 for almost 20 years. During this period, only one meeting of the SRC (headed by the President of Pakistan) and 13 meetings of ECSRC (headed by the Federal Minister for Finance) were held. The last meeting of ECSRC was held on 09 September 1999. The SRC, in its first-ever meeting held on 24 December 1984, approved the Long-Term Development Programme of Space Science and Technology in Pakistan, submitted by SUPARCO, which contained projects of national importance”.

The forefathers became history and the new caretakers had more important things to do i.e., politics, plundering, wars and scratching the veneer of progressiveness. Although SUPARCO was graduated and trained from ‘foreign’ universities but there were no jobs in Pakistan for this wunderkind.

Now the situation of this long lost glorified institution of the security state of Pakistan is; SUPRACO is unofficially dead. We have lost our space in the space and orbital slots due to bureaucratic delays and mismanagement. What a farce that Pakistan has the technology to launch Shaheen Missiles but the rocket launching and space missions are alien to Pakistan. Despite being one of the oldest Space Programs and having acquired the facilities and solid knowledgebase right from the start it was put on deathbed by our myopic leaders.

The argument regarding lack of funding is as absurd as that of earth being flat. In 2004 USA spent 0.14%, Europe 0.03%, Japan 0.05%, China 0.02%, Russia 0.06% and India 0.03% of their respective GDP.  So it is just a matter of priority.

This entity, which was supposed to; bring the latest knowledge from Solar System and beyond, keep the nation updated about the changes in atmosphere, be looking into the deep horizons and sees, build our own Positioning System making our aerial defence system and navigation applications independent of GPS, be taking the manned missions to the space by now, be having its own scientific magazines and TV channels, be building indigenous satellites and earning considerable revenue for Pakistan is now swinging between PAEC, NDC and other defence organizations ensuring that our Shaheens hit the target with pinpoint accuracy. One can easily relate the sad demise of SUPARCO by the time it was considered a national and security secret and the (deep) state did not want to give it in the hands of civilian scientists.

We are made to believe that CPEC is going to change the fate of Pakistan and in noise of roads, bridges, metro buses and obsolete coal fired power plants even we have started to sell spices in the name of CPEC abut there is not a single announcement of reviving the space program except an initial proclamation which has yet to see the light of the day! Even if such project is materialized, it will not serve the purpose if it doesn’t include launching and production of satellites indigenously i.e. from Pakistan’s soil by Pakistani scientists. This is the only way of SUPARCO’s resuscitation. Till then we will have to rely on others for understanding meteorites, comets, moons, craters, stars, neutron stars, black holes, constellations, realm of nebulae, galaxies, matter, dark matter and time. What a far cry!

The voyager was launched in 1977, roughly 18 years after the SUPARCO was formed which has now left the solar system and we are still there where we were in 1977 and the epitaph on SUPARCO’s grave says, “I was killed, not died my natural death”.

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