Saturday, November 14, 2009

Discovering Water On the Moon: Who Deserves the Credit?

This week, online headlines screams: "Tons of Water On the Moon!" (To be accurate, 25 gallons were discovered.)

 The implications are incredibly exciting, just as exciting as when the first human being - an American - left his footprints on the moon. Suddenly, everything was possible . . . for Americans, at least. 

When I was young, a popular television series called "Space: 1999" depicted a moon base, where humans work and live. For my last birthday, my partner bought me a die-cast metallic model of the Space: 1999 ship - that's how dear the series was to me.

Now, the discovery of water on the moon is re-igniting our possibilities for the Moon - water implies that we can sustain life!

However, most news on the discovery of water credited NASA, and neglected to mention that it was India's first mission Chandrayaan-1* that carried the equipment which discovered the water in the first place.

While due credit may not be interesting to some, I felt it really makes a big difference whether the headlines say "India discovers water on the Moon" or "NASA (aka America) discovers water on the Moon". Why?

It makes a difference to young kids in India and Asia. When I read that an American walked on the Moon, I told myself that only in America, dreams could come true. When I read about Einstein and Newton in school textbooks, I told myself that only Westerners could be great scientists. 

It is a little tricky at the moment: while the moon probe belonged to India, the equipment that detected water belonged to NASA. Regardless of the final verdict on who found water on the Moon, I hope young people all over the world are inspired by the possibilities - not just for human kind, but for yourselves as great scientists.

Can an Indian, Chinese, Malay or Thai be great scientists? Why not? 

* In Sir Fong's Adventures . . . Book 2, I faced a problem while plotting the story: "How can an Earth satellite take clear pictures of the Moon surface?" I posed that question to Professor Lui Pao Chuen (the ex-Chief Defense Scientist who is featured in the book as Professor Thunder). He gamely suggested that a moon satellite can take clear pictures. And in fact such a venture was undertaken by Indian space scientists. 

And wah lah! The rest is comic book history!

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Cover of Sir Fong 2

Cover of Sir Fong 2