Remarks by Consul General Phillip A. Min at Sathyabama University

CHENNAI:  Vannakkam.  I am pleased to join Sathyabama University for this international conference “Emerging Novelties and Vistas in Space Technologies and Applications” or ENVISTA 2016.  I want to thank Dr. T. Sasipraba, Dean of the University, for the invitation to speak with you today.  And I am honored to share the dais with Chancellor Dr. Jeppiaar, with senior members of the Indian Space Research Organization that leads India’s ambitious space program, and with my friend, German Consul General Achim Fabig.

This is an important and timely seminar. With the success of India’s Mars Orbiter Mission – or MOM – and other international achievements, space is no longer the final frontier.  Space is central to the way we live – from how we communicate, to how we entertain ourselves, to how we understand our planet and how we prepare for and manage natural disasters.  Because of these enormous commercial, political, and civil implications, space collaboration has steadily risen in its importance to the bilateral Indo-U.S. relationship.  Let me give you just a few examples of what is happening right now, as I speak to you today:

  • NASA’s Deputy Administrator Dr. Dava Newman has been in Bangalore this week meeting with her counterparts at ISRO for the third face-to-face meeting of the ISRO-NASA Mars Working Group.  I understand it’s been a productive meeting discussing how we can cooperate on MOM and MAVEN – NASA’s Mars spacecraft, – the NASA-ISRO NISAR project, exchange visits of U.S. and Indian researchers, and even a joint airborne campaign.
  • Frank Rose, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control, Verification, and Compliance, is in New Delhi as part of global efforts to track space debris and mitigate the threat it represents to our global communications networks.
  • In New Delhi, U.S. Ambassador to India Richard Verma is giving a speech on bilateral space cooperation this very evening at a seminar hosted by the Observer Research Foundation.
  • As a reminder of the history of our space cooperation, on February 1, a U.S. Embassy delegation from New Delhi visited the home town of Kalpana Chawla, an Indian-American astronaut who was aboard the Columbia Space Shuttle in 2003, to recognize her service and honor her memory.
  • And looking just a little forward – and perhaps saving the best for last – NASA Administrator Charles Bolden is hoping to return to India in April for the SPIE’s – the international society for optics and phonetics – Asia Pacific Remote Sensing Conference.  The event will convene some of the world’s brightest minds to examine how we can deploy remote sensing technologies to limit the impact of natural disasters and improve our understanding and monitoring of global climate change.

So, as you can see, this is a very opportune time for us to discuss the importance of space research and the key role of academic partnerships.

India has clearly established itself as one of the world’s most important space exploring nations.  Very few nations have been to Mars, much less on their first try, while completing the Mission in record time on a record budget. As we have learned in the United States, space research and exploration yield a myriad of positive outcomes that could not have been predicted when the missions were being designed.

To cite just a single example, we can thank scientists from NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at CalTech for coming up with the idea of digital cameras in the 1960s.  Not content to rest on their laurels, scientists keep working for decades to miniaturize the digital camera technology.  Today, cell phone cameras not only keep our Facebook pages up to date but also serve important roles in healthcare, police investigations, insurance assessments, and almost every facet of life. But let’s go back to social media for just a second. Isn’t it amazing that I can take a photo of this gathering and tweet it out to millions?  Just follow us @USAndChennai #USIndiaSpace.  That’s possible due to research that was initially designed for space exploration.

But innovation requires risk and risk requires incubation.  Nobody knew that miniaturized cameras would become a booming business and that recording our quotidian lives would become the norm until Steve Jobs figured it out.  Risk requires the willingness to fail and incubation provides the space, time, and support to try again. Academic institutions serve a critical role as incubators for forward leaning researchers, faculty, and students. Just google “NASA” and “students” and you’ll find a list of ongoing competitions open to everyone from 3rd graders to post-graduates.  Institutions of higher learning are a central component of a thriving culture of innovation, of research, and of progress precisely because they incubate burgeoning talent and ideas.

Innovation may involve risk but it also opens up enormous opportunities in business, scientific research and even governance. The NASA-ISRO Synthetic Aperture Radar (NISAR) project is nothing if not innovative – the project has the potential to revolutionize mankind’s understanding of the earth. The scientists and engineers on both sides are working today so that years from now they can tell future generations of Indians and Americans that their work led to a better understanding of the Indian Ocean monsoons, forest cover and atmospheric carbon, soil fertility and crop density, and more.

There are a number of active MOUs between American and Indian institutions now. The Universities Space Research Association or USRA represents more than 350 universities involved in space research.  I would encourage institutions like Sathyabama University to evaluate a partnership with USRA.  The University Corporation for Atmospheric Research or UCAR is active in India as well and could prove to be a valuable partner for Sathyabama University as well. UCAR is a multi-university not for profit entity that pools resources, giving institutions greater opportunities. And lastly, let me mention an important MOU between the American and Indian Meteorological Societies – AMS and IMS – to stimulate improved scientific interactions. This MOU provides a mechanism to jointly undertake research and developmental work to address Earth System Science issues of common concern through the exchange of scientific knowledge and technological knowhow in our two countries.

Let me turn now from the exciting collaborations going on right now to the even greater possibilities for the future.  I mentioned the Mars Working Group and NISAR as two key examples of bilateral space cooperation. But we need to look beyond these projects to new horizons that are not currently in focus. The potential for you, especially those of you in the audience today who are students, to impact the world is as vast as space itself.

As I travel around South India and meet with scientists, entrepreneurs, scholars and students, I am consistently awed by the energy, creativity and commitment to service among South India’s youth. India is rightly regarded around the world as home to some of the most groundbreaking young minds on the planet.  I’ve dropped in on ardent discussions between young Americans and Indians on Facebook, Skype and Twitter on civil, social, and political topics of the day.  It is your shared determination to change our world, to push forward and not lean back, that gives me great hope for our future.

I would encourage you to keep track of U.S. academic programs in aerospace and related fields. It’s an exciting time in the educational relationship between our two countries.  Universities are establishing centers in India, exploring dual degree programs, and considering other areas of formal and informal cooperation.  In addition to strengthening institutional collaboration, the United States is also very interested in supporting increased student mobility, both to and from India.  Ten years ago, 30,000 Indian students were studying in the U.S.  Today, it is over 132,000.  Consider visiting us at the U.S. Consulate here in Chennai, where our Education USA office can demystify the processes of applying for admission to U.S. universities, seeking financial support, and getting your U.S. visa. Last year, over 120,000 students and parents contacted one of the seven EducationUSA centers in India for advice.  This year, why not join them and get in touch with EducationUSA yourselves for more information?

Thank you again for this opportunity to address such an illustrious gathering, and I wish all of you the very best as you inaugurate ENVISTA 2016 this morning.