NEW DELHI – It's 10 am on a stifling Delhi day and it's time for classes in space.
Like many junior high school students, Veronica Sodhi, a 12-year-old with big dreams, says that the space class is her favorite subject, but on Friday there was something even more special.
India is ready to send a robotic rover to roar around the south pole of the moon, which is a huge step forward for its space program. The rocket starts at 2:51 on Monday, and the expectation evokes national pride.
Indian children are sending YouTube messages fortunately to the national space agency; V.I.P. approaching the launch site in a remote coastal area near Chennai; a small six-wheeled rover crawls on the first pages of all newspapers; and telecasters use patriotism through special broadcasts on "The greatest space adventure in India."
In K.R. Mangalam World School near New Delhi, a place for children from the upper middle class – on the ground floor there is an ice rink – Veronica and her classmates were pumped.
"Children," asked Harjeet Kaur, a space-class teacher, "why did we call this mission" Chandrayaan "?"
Veronica fired from the desk so fast that she almost tipped the chair behind her.
"Because-it-means-moon-and-vehicle," she said in one breath.
"Everyone is clapping for her," said the teacher. "Is there another country that sent a mission to the southern pole of the moon?"
"No!" Students shouted.
"We are all proud Indians, yes, students?"
"I really can not hear you."
"YES, PLEASE YOU!"
"It would be really nice to walk on the moon," Weronika whispered a moment later. "I mean, a bit like a wandering, but really cool."
The moon mission is a bold move for every country, but especially for one who has hundreds of millions of people still stuck in poverty.
But this is the puzzle of India. It is also a place of modernity, a source of scientific and technical skills. Its software developers are known as one of the largest in the world, and every year its universities pump thousands of highly talented scientists and engineers, experts in the field of cutting-edge technologies.
Space fits this.
A big reason why Prime Minister Narendra Modi he won re-election in May, is so popular that he pressed for more powerful, more assertive India, wishing to gain his place as a superpower.
Just weeks before the start of the election – commentators said the time was a bit fishy – Mr. Modi announced that India has just shot down a satellite that is flying 17,000 miles an hour 150 miles above Earth. Few countries can do this.
This is not even the first lunar mission in India. In 2008, the moon probe Chandrayaan did not land, but I discovered particles of water on the moon.
The moon is definitely happy a bit of a renaissance on Earth. China is working on its own mission at the south pole of the moon. Scientists believe that there may be a lot of water ice, as well as Helium-3, a future source of energy considered abundant for our little neighbor.
Many Indians believe that this mission, which will develop over 200,000 miles, is a turning point in the history of their country. They use almost the same words to describe the meaning of Chandrayaan: "We will now be the fourth cosmic power!" They are followed by the United States, Russia and China.
"India would like to have a small space in space," said Sunita Nagpal, director of K.R. School of Mangalam.
To help educate the next generation of astronauts and go beyond the standard government curriculum (which one of the directors of private schools snobbily rejected, as written for the son of a puller rickshaw), many private schools sought new ways to teach space.
Go to Space India. Founded in 2001, a profit-based education company runs workshops, tours and regular classes in astronomy, rockets and space exploration, both in public and private schools.
Many schools do not have space teachers of their own and do not employ instructors from Space India, which even run a nocturnal space camp in several places far from cities.
This week the lessons were about the moon and the Chandrayaan II mission.
The whole mission costs less than $ 150 million. The orbiter will save fuel by making ever wider orbits around the Earth before being caught by the moon's gravity and drawn into the lunar orbit.
It takes much more time than in the case of shots made by Apollo missions, which cost billions (the fact that people were with them was also not cheap). The Chandrayaan rover will not be tossed around the moon until September.
"But it's just coincidence," said Vivec Singh, spokesman for the Indian Space Research Organization, the Indian version of NASA. "We were late."
The Indians wanted to fire two or three years ago with a Russian rover, but when the Russians withdrew, they decided to build their own, which took some time.
The hardest part, everyone agrees, will be a soft landing. The plan is that the landing craft will leave the orbit and drop gently onto the powdered surface of the moon. Then a small six-wheeled rover will pop out (which weighs about 60 kg).
If The Israelis tried to carry out a similar lunar mission in April, it did not go so well. Communication froze, leaving people gathered in front of the wheelhouse with tears in their eyes. The lander crashed.
To appreciate these difficulties, students of the space class in K.R. The Mangalam school was asked to make lunar planners with styrofoam bowls, with folded paper stuck to the side that would act as a shock absorber. The trick was to drop the bowls from the desk and throw them without an astronaut – caps with a pen – falling out.
In space activities at another school in Delhi, students built rockets from plastic drinks bottles. The teaching style was the same, a very cheerful Socratic method, with another Space India instructor, Heena Bhatia, standing in front of the classroom, shouting questions and waiting for a quick delivery of facts.
"Do you know the basic parts of the rocket? Who will tell me? "
One of the boys stood up and threw answers like verbal bullets.
"The tip of the nose, the body, the fins."
"Everyone is clapping at Akshay," the teacher was beaming. "Do you want to make your own rockets now?"
"Yes!" She yelled class.
"Sir will give you materials to make your own rocket," said the teacher, pointing to the man with the tattooed forearms, deeply focused on joining the small fins – he was Space India's assistant.
All children dream about stars. But in New Delhi it is often difficult to see them.
This is because air pollution is so bad, and city lights are so bright. The result is a blurry, opaque night sky.
"But on the moon it will be so beautiful," said Veronica, her eyes shining with a special 12-year-old light. "It will be so dark and quiet. There will be so many stars. "
"I do not know why I've always been interested in the moon," she said. "But I do. I want to be close, not on YouTube, not on the Internet. I've always dreamed of being an astronaut. I want my India to be proud of me. "