Dr.Asoke Kumar Talukder, Mathematician and Scientist
Coordinated by the PM Essence Editorial Team
Space – The Final Frontier
The interest in space today is likely at an all-time high. Obviously, the recent successes like the trial of SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket and its renewable booster system, NASA's plan to restart manned missions, and closer home ISRO's world record of sending 104 satellites to space in one go, have a lot to do with it. The enthusiasm reached a crescendo on July 16 with the 50th Anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon Landing, and on July 22, when ISRO launched its second mission to moon, the Chandrayaan – 2.
The PM Essence Team caught up Dr.Asoke Kumar Talukder, famous mathematician and scientist based out of Bangalore, to ask some relevant questions about the renewed interest in space. Incidentally, back in 1951, Dr.Talukder, then a 16-year old boy, made an exact replica of the Saturn V rocket and the Apollo landing craft for an All-India Science Exhibition for school students. The replica was later gifted to the USIS, Kolkata, and was proudly displayed in its premises.
Q1. Dr. Talukder, what do you make of the current enthusiasm about space? Do you think this is sustainable or is it just a fad?
I would suppose that the race for space in the space supremacy will only increase.Because, I believe future wars will be fought in information (data) and space. Every country will try to build expertise in this space. If someone or some country excels in space sciences,they have to excel in physics, chemistry, mathematics, technology, engineering,data science,or even biology.
Q2.Where do you see mankind going in the next 50 years? Would we reach the nearest stars in our galaxy?
It is very difficult to predict what will happen in next 50 years. However, rocket science is a domain of high mass flow, which means the mass flows at a very high speed. Alpha Centauri is the closest star (or planetary system) to our Solar System at 4.37 light-years away from the Sun. If one has to complete a one-way journey in 5 years, he has to travel at 90% of the speed of light. But there is a different type of challenge, at that speed according to Einstein's Special Relativity, the mass will double. This will increase the energy requirements for moving the rocket.
Q3.The problem with Space travel are vast distances and the speed of space vehicles.We do not yet have engines to power spacecraft anywhere near the speed required to cover the distances between stars. How far do you think we are from a high-speed engine technology?
The challenge is not realizing high speed engine alone, we need to make provision of sufficient fuel to drive the rocket for years for inter-star travel. If it is a manned vehicle, you have other challenges. You need to carry necessary items for living like food, water, toiletry items, etc. As you have ultra-high speed engine, the mass of the payload will increase,which will reduce the speed.
Q4. What do our nearest stars tell us? Do you believe in the possibility of intelligent life somewhere in the universe?
There are many theories and counter-theories. Space is a domain where I believe that the unknown pie is bigger that what we know – the more we know about this domain, we will find less we know. About life in other stars – of course possible. I would not like to guess their biochemical composition though. However, inter-star travel has to solve many other problems. We do not know what effect high speed travel will have on the human body. High speed travel according to special theory of relativity will increase the mass of the travelling person – how? Will cells increase by cell-division or inflate without multiplication? What about disease due to the space travel; or the impact on age due to time dilation – we know that in microgravity environment stem cells lose their differentiation capabilities. In addition,new red blood cells die quickly in microgravity conditions, causing anemia. Unless we understand these, it will be impossible to even think of travel to another star and meeting l ife forms in other stars
Q5.What are your views on India's successful Space program and the Moon mission?
So far India as a country has done excellent job under constraints.I believe we will have a better understanding about the Moon mission following the success of Chandrayan-2. There are many smart minds backing the mission – therefore, I am quite optimistic about the success of the Moon mission.
Q6. Let's talk about you. When you built the model back in 1968,what was foremost in your mind? Why did you go into such painstaking details for the model?
In the year 1968,the awareness of the 'rocket science' behind moon mission was very less – therefore I decided to do a model of Apollo 11 and Saturn V and exhibit it at the model competition. I referred to books and magazines at USIS Library and British Library at Calcutta. I tried to make the model in scale.It was approximately 10 foot to 1 inch.The Saturn Vwas 363 feet whereas my model was 36.3 inches. I did lot of research to gather knowledge and pictures of these spacecraft. It was also a major challenge to assemble the material for construction of the model.You also need to bear in mind that like ISRO I did not have sufficient money to buy expensive material.
Q7. Now,as a senior scientist,do you still feel the same excitement about space and the surprises it has to offer?
Of course. Aviation, space, and computers fascinate me all the time. But as you know my current interest is in human disease and artificial intelligence (AI). I believe we need to learn the success story of ISRO and reproduce the same vigor in every domain starting from conservation to farming.
Annual Members Meet: The Annual Members Meet was held on 29th June 2019 at NIMHANS Auditorium. Nearly 90 members attended the meeting. During the meeting the audited balance sheet for the year 2018-2019 was presented and was approved by the General Body. A number of suggestions / points raised by the members were also discussed.