What became of Pakistan’s space programme?

Published: September 29, 2014

Nearly 20 years ago, I remember walking through the packed halls of the then Taj Mahal hotel in Karachi where the Pakistan Space and Upper Atmosphere Commission (Suparco) had set up a magnificent display of the cosmos and their crowning jewel, the first Pakistani satellite Badar-1.

I remember, though young I was, how it captured the imagination of the young and old alike. How travel to the galaxy of stars, which at the time was only felt to be a figment of Hollywood’s unrestrained imagination, seemed like a reality to us.

The Mars rover programme of Nasa in 1998 threw the world into frenzy as they watched the first ever set of photos from the Red Planet’s surface. In Pakistan though, we continued to grapple with the uncertainty of our political and economic future.

Fast forward to present day, space is once again capturing our attention with neighbouring India managing a successful programme of not just launching into space but orchestrating the highly complex mission of sending a satellite to Mars– and that too on a shoestring budget.

It speaks volumes about their focus and of the capacity they have managed to build.

Suparco, initially formed under Pakistan’s sole Nobel laureate Dr Abdus Salam, seems to be creaking along to its Indian counterparts. Starved of funds, its focus has been limited to communication satellites, tracking weather in addition to working on specific military applications.

From being at the forefront of space exploration and development in Asia with the launch of Rehbar-I in the early 1960s, Pakistan today is far behind its neighbours including Iran, India and China.

The government, which gave impetus to our space programme by putting ink to a 30-year programme in 2011 in concert with the launch of our first communications satellite, needs to expand that to work with our educational institutions and expatriates. It must focus on building our capacity to produce the kind of minds which can help expand our capacities at a much faster pace and secure the space future of our country.

Perhaps, Suparco should hold more events such as the one in the Taj Mahal around the country to generate greater interest in the public to help take our space programme beyond the stars.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 29th, 2014.

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Reader Comments (33)

  • Zaida Parvez
    Sep 29, 2014 - 9:20AM

    Don’t mention “space” to Imran Khan. If he sees any open space, he will hold a dharna there.


  • Abdul
    Sep 29, 2014 - 9:24AM

    I don’t understand why you guys want to spend alot on Space programs. We have enough technology with these resources so first solve uncertainty in country then concentrate on education, health, and later do spend on all this. (But don’t forget defense as well)

    As a Pakistani I also want Pakistan best in every field but that doesn’t mean we start comparing grapes with apples.


  • Gurion
    Sep 29, 2014 - 9:44AM

    How can a country that thinks a meteorite stone in Arabia is at the centre of the universe, earth is flat, mountains acting as a bedouin tent pegs keeping flat earth place, that stars are the holes in tent cloth, plans djinn powered energy generation and has nuclear physicists who are ignorant of laws of thermodynamics, can possibly have a functioning space program?!


  • Weirdity
    Sep 29, 2014 - 10:28AM

    Pakistan has made great strides in space technology. Its a secret right now but it will be revealed once IK becomes PM in “Naya” Pakistan.


  • nrmr44
    Sep 29, 2014 - 10:50AM

    When was the last time any politician in Pakistan talked of higher education, industry, commerce, research, technology, or space? When was the last time the public in Pakistan was interested in all these? I ask you: if India’s Mangalyaan had not been in the picture, would any Pakistani have even known that America’s more versatile Maven had gone into Mars orbit two days earlier?
    Was Abdus Salam Pakistani? Really? I thought Pakistan always saw him as an Ahmediya before they saw him as a physicist.
    At any rate, the writer is to be commended for resurrecting the name of Suparco. Of course, from tomorrow it will be back to Qadri, Imran, Hafeez Saeed, etc. And Kashmir, of course!


  • Sep 29, 2014 - 11:06AM

    every one talk about pakistan politician none of them concerned into himself we are dependent to our leader not our resources if we are so educated then we can fight for our rights.but no! we are sindhi pashtoun punjabi none of them appears in islamic socialism, yet we are fighting in crowds on democracy.


  • AVPMPolpot
    Sep 29, 2014 - 11:30AM

    Nature abhors a vacuum
    And all Pakistanis agree that space is vacuum.


  • Hari Om
    Sep 29, 2014 - 11:36AM

    Forget flattering comparison of Pakistan’s space program with India and P.R. China as they are way beyond Pakistan’s league. Even comparing against the more modest space program of Muslim Majority countries Pakistan lags despite generosity of the United States in making available Nike-Cajun sounding rockets to Pakistan at an early date.

    Thus Pakistan was neither the first or second Muslim Majority Country to launch a satellite into orbit, those bragging rights went to Indonesia for Palapa 1 in 1976 and Saudi Arabia for Arabsat 1A in 1985. Pakistan does not number among the Seven Muslim Majority Countries that have placed Astronauts/Cosmonauts in orbit namely Saudi Arabia, Syria, Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgzstan, Iran and Malaysia. Neither is Pakistan is the sole Muslim Majority Country that has an Orbital launch capability, namely Iran.

    Pakistan’s boast of “Eating Grass” to come up with a Nuclear Weapon in order to compete with India seems to have sapped all of Pakistan’s scientific energy and thus reminds me of what in the music world is termed “a one hit wonder”.


  • abcd
    Sep 29, 2014 - 11:40AM

    @Gurion: exactly…and yet India and USA both have great space programs….so why can’t Pakistan…


  • abcd
    Sep 29, 2014 - 11:44AM

    My dear writer….Pakistani politicians are too busy “saving” democracy by filling their pockets with public money. They have no time for education, health and safety of the people. Tell them a way of making money from space exploration and watch them line up funding for the space program. In the end….for these politicians its all about the cash…i.e. how to get it into their pockets!


  • Mazo
    Sep 29, 2014 - 11:52AM

    If Pakistan had not been partitioned from India – today, India’s space program would not be a “neighbor’s envy”, it would be your joy as well.

    Ever since partition – HUGE sums of money have been spent by both sides “against” each other. This has one way made both India and pakistan extremely proficient military capacities and ability to wage wars but it has diverted funds, resources and focus from building industry, technology and capabilities that South Asians, at least what we in India think, we deserve and is long over due.

    Nations like S.Korea, Japan have used the USA to guarantee their security which helped them focus all their energies on economic development and skill building. This has left South Asia behind because we were too preoccupied with military and petty political, ethnic and religious issues to recognize the real challenges in raising the quality of the people of South Asia.


  • Rahul
    Sep 29, 2014 - 12:46PM

    well said


  • Iqbal
    Sep 29, 2014 - 12:48PM

    “What became of Pakistan’s space programme?”

    The answer lies in ex President Musharaf’s famous quote:

    “Today we are the poorest, the most illiterate, the most backward, the most unhealthy, the most un-enlightened, the most deprived, and the weakest of all the human race”

    We muslims are not good enough today in education and we need to pay more emphasis on quality education and less on paranoia that our neighbours are going to attack us. We just spend too much on defence which when compared to our neighbours again is too little.


  • Random Passerby
    Sep 29, 2014 - 1:07PM

    First step should be to put SUPARCO under a civilian scientist instead of a military general. And that civilian scientist should be someone other than Samar Mubarakmand who has an uncanny ability of getting his grubby hands on all lucrative postings.


  • Jameel ur Rasheed
    Sep 29, 2014 - 1:19PM

    We as Pakistanis prefer to die with hunger, thirst and natural catastrophes than being killed in an attack from India. That is very why we keep on stockpiling our nuclear weapons, developing tactical nukes, buying nuclear submarines and etcetra! National security is what we need, who needs space programs or scientific research?


  • James
    Sep 29, 2014 - 1:27PM

    As long as you have organizations like JI and JUD and others, this will never happen…….I hope you are aware of recent so-called “objectionable materials” being removed from the school text book such as Christmas cake, ambulance with red cross mark and little girls without dupatta.

    I believe, you must take permission from these primitive organizations for space exploration like the all rounder Imran Khan’s party is doing…….who knows if they feel good, they might allow you…….


  • Rahul
    Sep 29, 2014 - 1:52PM

    You don’t send satellites to Mars. It was an orbiter. Rover landing with a bigger payload presumably would be the next step.


  • Jawad U Rahman
    Sep 29, 2014 - 4:48PM

    Is it a mere coincidence that SUPARCO is headed by a Major General?


  • Goutam
    Sep 29, 2014 - 5:46PM

    India is an imagined enemy of pakistan but not in actual. Stock piling of nukes is a rubbish idea of what no country will ever be able to use it. Better , pakistan should have focused more on priority of their basic requirements. Many of the high ranked commanders as well as Gen. P. Musharraf has said that the army action of past years was good for nothing.


  • John
    Sep 29, 2014 - 6:43PM

    I think the pani say chalnay wali gari sums up the level of advancement we have in science.


  • Moiz Omar
    Sep 29, 2014 - 8:33PM

    It is such a shame what has happened to our space programme.Recommend

  • riya
    Sep 29, 2014 - 8:33PM

    pakistan and technology … hahahaha


  • genesis
    Sep 29, 2014 - 9:06PM

    When was the last time any politician in Pakistan talked of higher education, industry, commerce, research, technology, or space? ……or spend money on libraries or books except what pertains to religion.the rest of knowledge is useless as all that is to be known is already in the books of regions.


  • genesis
    Sep 29, 2014 - 9:09PM

    Partition cannot be undone and it is good that it happened when you look back now and see what one nation has become…abode of OBL etc etc which would have been serous problem as well!


  • Sep 29, 2014 - 9:51PM

    I thought a country is to resolve all the problems it has before embarking on a Space program.

    Lets see if I can list out the problems of Pakistan: Poverty, Hunger, IDPs, Floods, Terror, Radicalization, Polio, Lack of genuine Democracy, Lack of Civilian Supremacy, Brain Drain, Genocide of Balochis, Pakhtuns, Hindus, Sikhs, Ahmadis and Christians.

    Only after solving these problems should Pakistan embark on any Scientific study. Also, I forgot to add Pakistan has nothing to spare after spending 60% of its budget on Defence and Debt servicing. So, it can’t spend money it doesn’t have. Or, it can reduce its Defence expenditure or stop giving payments to countries and institutions who have loaned Pakistan money.

    Where will the money come from?


  • Freeman
    Sep 29, 2014 - 10:02PM

    @abcd: My suggestion for first space program for the Pakistani space organization: Send both Qadri and Imran into a permanent orbit around the moon from which they can beam down the “first” sightings of any “new” moon. This will save both Pakistani democracy and its space program.


  • Freeman
    Sep 29, 2014 - 10:05PM

    @Iqbal: Alas, dear Mush did not pay attention to his own words and engaged in paranoia, and still does in his speeches, book, and interviews.


  • Abid P. Khan
    Sep 30, 2014 - 2:57AM

    @Zaida Parvez:
    “Don’t mention “space” to Imran Khan. If he sees any open space, he will hold a dharna there. “

    Whatever little sense of direction the country had, after the arrival of these two mad mullas in Islamabad, with their dharna crowds. the country has completely gone bonkers.


  • Last Word
    Sep 30, 2014 - 10:07AM

    Pakistan needs to get its priorities right as it is far behind in almost in all major fields namely education, health, manufacturing, R&D etc which needs to focussed initially before it can think of jumping into the space programme. Pakistan is spending far too much on its defence and billions were wasted on adding nuclear toys and other defence infrastructure to match India. One sincerely hopes that some wisdom dawns on the top brass for welfare of country and people and not only on its self interest by reducing defence spending drastically which can be usefully spent in many other fields.Recommend

  • Alann
    Sep 30, 2014 - 2:41PM

    Why are you complaining? With the recent successful test firing of a 60-km range missile in response to India’s Mars Mission, I will say Pakistan’s space programme is very much alive…even though their vision is severely limited. Who knows, some day Pakistan will finally be able to make use of their space programme to reach Kashmir! Who cares about the Moon or Mars, Kashmir is more important destination for Pakistan.


  • Murali
    Sep 30, 2014 - 4:46PM

    To: All those who are complaining of heavy defense spending in Pakistan impeding its progress – Well you have a point. India, as one of you rightly said, is an imaginary enemy of Pakistan. If you look back at the history, in the long history of India, we have never attacked anyone except in self defense. Why would it then wage war against Pakistan without any instigation or provocation? If you take a look at all India Pakistan wars right from 1947, they were all started by Pakistan. Now, let us fast forward ourselves to 2014. I do not think any sensible Indian today considers Pakistan as a threat, if at all. We face threat from a different front possibly – and I say possibly with an emphasis – because I do not believe any country can afford to get into a nuclear war in today’s time. The future wars are going to be on technological superiority and economic power. Boarders will be extinct except for geopolitical administration. I remember Indian Defense Scientist Dr. Tessy Thomas saying in public after the Agni V test launch – that these are weapons of peace. Surely she has a point – you need these weapons only to ensure deterrence from across your boarders, not for attack. So spend sensibly in defense, but not in defense alone. There are other areas a tax payer’s money needs to be spent.


  • freed
    Oct 1, 2014 - 10:58AM

    Free and fair election before mars.


  • bennedose
    Oct 2, 2014 - 6:30AM

    If one reads through the comments from Pakistanis in hundeds of such articles comparing India with Pakistan, one finds a common stream. One set of Pakstanis urge India to address poverty before doing anything else. Another set of Pakistanis say that Pakistan should concentrate on poverty before doing anything else.

    Is there a law that all poverty must be addressed before technology development? When the colonizer nations of Europe were looting the world and funding their own industries, their poverty levels were as high or higher than either India (or the non existent Pakistan). They now say that poverty must be addressed before technology is developed – as if removing poverty will magically bring technology. If that was the case Saudi Arabia and Qatar would have been tech superpowers.

    India has no obligation to remove poverty before developing technology. What Pakistan does is its own business. We are two separate nations, remember? That’s what your Qaid e Azam said. Pakistani’s need not worry about what India does.


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