Eyes on sky, heart in India

Having witnessed the remarkable accomplishments of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) in recent years, National Aeronautics and Space Administration…

Eyes on sky, heart in India

NASA scientist Henry Throop (Photo: Akash Khanna/SNS Web)

Having witnessed the remarkable accomplishments of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) in recent years, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) scientist Henry Throop has great expectations from Indian scientists. He is in love with India and its people, so much so that he has made Mumbai his second home to carry on his ‘wonderful’ expedition.

“It’s wonderful to be here in India, seeing all the innovations around, inspiring work that ISRO is doing, collaborative work that India is doing in science with other countries. It’s a great time for India, and for international collaborations. I look forward to the future,” Throop told thestatesman.com in an exclusive interview.

Throop is an eminent Planetary Astronomer and Senior Scientist, Planetary Service Institute, Tucson, Arizona, and has been residing in Mumbai for two years.


Throop was involved with NASA’s New Horizons Mission that went to Pluto in 2015 and will now go to a Kuiper Belt object in 2019. Shedding light on his subject, Throop said, “So we are looking into the ancient history of the solar system. How was the solar system formed? What it looks like out there? Because it’s too far, we can’t see these things through a telescope from the ground. We have to take the spacecraft and find out there.”

“It’s exciting to be here in India. Because India, with ISRO’s successful Mars Orbiter Mission, is also participating in exploration of the solar system and doing fantastic work,” Throop said, adding India is “full of innovative minds” such as CV Raman, Satyendra Nath Bose, Homi J Bhabha and APJ Abdul Kalam.

On alien life, the US-based scientist said: “The universe is huge and we’ve only started to discover it.”

“Our galaxy is the milky way. Inside our galaxy, there’s about 1,000 billion stars; one with eleven zeros after it. Inside the universe, there’s 1,000 billion galaxies. So, you multiply those together maybe that is one with 22 zeros. I think it’s very likely that we have life around at least on one of those stars,” Throop said.

“I think it would be very strange if we were the only place with life in the whole universe. Though we have never found life, I am pretty confident that there must be life out there, somewhere. We’ve never found verified UFOs on earth but I think if we continue to use science, telescope and spacecraft to explore the solar system and the universe, we’ll find life eventually,” he further explained.

On space tourism becoming reality one day, Throop had a mixed opinion. He was of the opinion that the Earth is a much better place to live and tour.

“It takes a lot of money and energy to get into space. There’s been some advancement in this regard. Elon Musk is doing a lot of work on reducing the price and energy required to go into space. But right now, earth is the best place to be,” he said.

“It is much better to live on earth than to live on Mars or Moon. On earth, we have a warm environment, water, oxygen and atmosphere,” Throop added.

The 44-year-old Colorado-born scientist was in the capital on Wednesday to inaugurate the ‘Atal Tinkering Laboratory’ at the Springdales School, Dhaula Kuan, under the patronage of Atal Innovation Mission, NITI Aayog.

On the occasion, Throop interacted with school kids and answered their queries on space and beyond. Calling it a ‘fantastic’ experience, Throop said: “There is so much creativity. Kids are very curious. They asked a lot of questions and have a lot of innovative ideas. These are the important things for growing and changing the world.”

Throop went on to describe the ideas that young Indian scientists put in front of him. “There are a number of ideas from mechanical hearts to aerospace engineering, to airplane, to collections of waste and recycling. There are so many great ideas and when you come up with an idea, you can go to the university, develop your ideas and start to change the world”.

Talking about the Indian educational system, Throop said the increasing population is a big challenge for aspiring scientists in India.

“There’s a lot of great students coming from India, there’s a lot of great schools, colleges and universities here. It’s a challenge in India as it’s such a huge country. I know there are more students who want to get into the best schools, but they can’t. I know many schools are expanding to enroll more promising students. I hope the universities here will continue to expand and be able to produce more scientists, more engineers, more journalists and more writers.”

Throop believes that curiosity defines the path of an aspirant. “It’s not about strengthening the knowledge, it’s about strengthening curiosity and making people curious so that they can ask questions and figure out answers to those questions. It’s about exploring the world, having ideas and being able to act upon those ideas,” he said when asked about his opinion on the school curriculum.

Throop, who is a frequent consultant to the NASA and the National Science Foundation, gave his insights on global warming as well. “We, the humans, have actively depleted the ozone layer with chlorofluorocarbons chemicals, but that is a solvable problem. If we change the refregence that is in the aircon units, that problem can be fixed very easily.”

“Solving global warming is a much bigger problem and that’s because we put too much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere due to fossil fuel burning, gasoline, etc. This is a problem as we can’t avoid the emission of carbon dioxide; we need it for transportation and energy. Having said that, with much people working together and coming up with alternate solutions, this too can be solved,” the optimistic scientist said.