Crazy dream: the former Delhi IT worker in the race to land on the moon

TeamIndus is one of four teams competing to win Googles Lunar XPrize for the first ever private moon landing, worth $20m

To this day, Rahul Narayan doesnt know why he said yes, except that it was the very last day to sign up, and if he didnt agree to it, then there would be no Indian teams in the running. He threw together a proposal and clicked submit.

Perhaps it was the dullness of his day job in IT services, or a last-ditch effort to recapture some adolescent Star Trek-themed fantasy; but once the idea got into his head, it stuck.

And so it was decided Rahul Narayan would send a spacecraft to the moon.

Sitting in his office now, three years since his moon mission started, Narayan talks through the complexities of lunar expeditions. Sometimes, people ask him why he, a software engineer from Delhi, and a complete outsider to the space industry would attempt a lunar landing, a feat that only three countries have successfully achieved so far.

The real answer to that, Narayan says, is that if you were an insider youd never attempt something like this.

If he succeeds, Narayan and his company TeamIndus will be the first private company ever to land on the moon.

But competition is stiff. Three other teams are competing to win Googles Lunar XPrize for the first ever private moon landing, worth $20m. When Narayan signed up, at the end of 2011, there were 30 teams in the running. The competitions elimination rounds have whittled it down to four.

TeamIndus is now racing against MoonExpress, led by Indian-American dot-com billionaire Naveen Jain; SpaceIL, set up by three Israeli engineers, and an international team called Synergy Moon, all planning to launch their spacecrafts in December this year. A fifth team, Japan-based Hakuto will send a rover on TeamIndus spacecraft which will be launched on a government-owned rocket in Chennai, and reach a top speed of 10.3km a second.

After landing at Mare Imbrium, the Sea of Showers, a four-wheeled, solar-powered, aluminium rover, one of the lightest ever to roam the moons surface will beam HD images back to earth as it makes a 500m journey.

If it completes all this successfully and before the other teams, TeamIndus will have done enough to win the Xprize. Money however, is tight. The project has raised only $16m of the $70m it will need. Private investment from friends, family members and Indian entrepreneurs make up part of the pot, selling payload on the spacecraft, corporate sponsorship and crowdfunding, the company hopes, will make up the rest of it.

A model of the moon lander to be used by Indian company TeamIndus.

Narayan started working on the moon mission in 2012, mostly in the evenings and on weekends in Delhi. After a year of juggling between his IT company and his new obsession with the moon, he decided it had to be one or the other, and so left the company, and moved his family to Bangalore, Indias tech capital, and the headquarters of Indias space industry. His wife didnt object. She knows what Im like, he says.

TeamIndus is the only company from a developing country to attempt the moon landing. If we could pick this as a problem statement and solve it, I think we could solve any complex engineering problem, says Narayan.

The company has vague plans to start a satellite programme or develop solar powered drones after the moon mission. But the real ambition, says Narayan was to prove the impossible can be done. I dont think anybody starts something to inspire people, but because what were doing is exceptionally difficult, I think the impact is very clearly cultural and social, he says.

The new space race

Narayans mission appears a long way from the heady days of the 60s and 70s when the US and then USSR spared no expense to explore space. The last few decades have seen some of those dreams die amid severe cuts.

But now, with the rise of China and India in the past two decades a new race for technological ascendancy began. The 37-year hiatus in lunar landings was broken by the China National Space Administration in 2013, when the Change 3 sent back soil samples to earth after successfully performing the first soft landing on the moon in decades.

The Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) plans its own first lunar landing with the launch of Chandarayaan II planned in the next few years. The Indian companys landing however, if successful, could beat its own government to the punch, and make India the fourth nation ever to land on the moon.

Vishesh Vatsal, an aerospace engineering graduate joined TeamIndus when the company only had a handful of employees. He was hired as an intern by Narayan, despite failing technical interviews, and is now responsible for the team working on the spacecrafts lunar descent system, one of the trickiest parts of the entire journey.

Were not the most elite group of Indian engineers that have come together. A lot of people used to laugh at us, he says, recalling one of his first weeks on the job, when Narayan pushed him in front of some executives during a company review. I gave the silliest answers possible. We got ridiculed in subtle ways, he says.

A diagram of the moon lander to be used by Indian company TeamIndus Photograph: TeamIndus

The criticism didnt deter them. In January 2015, TeamIndus became the last of four teams to qualify for the XPrize award.

After that, Indias space scientists started taking them seriously. A number of veteran Isro engineers signed up to help the moon landing. Some like 72-year old PS Nair had even worked on Isros first satellite launch in 1975, and shaped the national space mission from its infancy.

[The] goal is not going to the moon, he says. The goal is to empower industry and the country to do what big, giant organisations have done earlier, and thats the goal of the XPrize too, to popularise hi-tech activity and take it out of the control of big organisations like Nasa or Isro. Thats the real motivation for many of us.

Indias space programme is hugely controversial, especially in the west, with some campaigners arguing millions of pounds of British aid money was being misspent in India.For many, the space mission is a symbol of neglect towards Indias most impoverished citizens, while its delusional elites reach for superpower status.

Sheelika Ravishankar, head of marketing and outreach, argues the countrys ventures are a huge source of national pride. Different parts of India care about what were doing in different ways, she says, recalling an auto rickshaw driver who donated a part of his salary to TeamIndus after one of the companys employees told him about the moon mission on his way to work, or a man who left a board meeting to donate 2m rupees (23,800) when the cash-strapped company urgently needed to test its spacecraft.

Folks are coming forward to say this is architecting a new India, which is technologically advanced, which is bright, which is not the last stop of IT services where you backend to the cheapest country. This is the front of technology.

As the launch deadline draws closer, teams are working faster than ever to test and enhance their models. A misplaced particle of dust or a simple electronic malfunction could derail the whole mission.

Many see TeamIndus as underdogs in the moon race, up against teams with vast resources.

But Ravishankarsays being in the race, and in it to win, puts India on the map.

This proves that you can get state of the art technology coming out of India. It is proof, that you dont have you be a huge team of rocket scientists with the deepest pockets to do research. Its also for the rest of the world to see that anybody can put together a crazy dream. I mean, how much crazier can you be than to look at the moon and say, hey, Im going there?

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BJP landslide in Uttar Pradesh a boost for India prime minister Narendra Modi

Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata partys emphatic victory in the countrys most populous state is being seen as a broad endorsement of Modis policies

Indias ruling Bharatiya Janata party (BJP) has won control of the countrys most populous and influential state by an unexpectedly large margin, cementing Narendra Modis dominance of Indian politics and putting the prime minister on track for re-election in 2019.

Final results released by the Indian election commission on Saturday showed the BJP had won 311 of 403 seats in Uttar Pradesh, enough to form a rare majority government in the north Indian state of 220 million people.

Its chief rival, a coalition between the Congress and the incumbent Samajwadi party, had won just 54 seats and was leading in one more.

As the scale of the victory became clear, Modi tweeted that he was overjoyed his party had received unprecedented support from all sections of society.

Narendra Modi (@narendramodi)

Every moment of our time, everything we do is for welfare & wellbeing of the people of India. We believe in the power of 125 crore Indians.

March 11, 2017

Narendra Modi (@narendramodi)

Thank you. Long live democracy!

March 11, 2017

His partys president, Amit Shah, said the win was the biggest in Uttar Pradesh in the countrys modern history, coming off the 47 seats the party had won at the last state poll in 2012. People have given us historic mandate and raised the partys responsibilities, he told a party conference.

Party workers and supporters chanted the prime ministers name in raucous celebrations outside BJP headquarters in Delhi and the state capital Lucknow which many said would continue throughout the spring festival of Holi, which starts this weekend.

Rajnath Singh, the Indian home minister who may be parachuted into the state parliament to lead the new government, said the victory had changed [the] political picture of the country.

The decisive win was interpreted as a broad endorsement of Modis decision last November to invalidate 86% of all currency in circulation as part of an anti-corruption drive.

The execution of demonetisation was botched, with cash shortages persisting in parts of the country, but Modi successfully framed the policy as a decisive strike against the untaxed hoards of black money accumulated by the countrys wealthy elites.

That strategy appears to have paid off, helping to broaden the BJPs appeal beyond its traditionally base of upper-caste Hindus and merchants, and sustaining the extraordinary personal popularity Modi continues to enjoy among the Indian public nearly three years since his election.

Saturdays result also raised questions over the viability of one of Modis few national rivals, Rahul Gandhi, the scion of a family that has ruled India intermittently for nearly 70 years and whose patriarch, Jawaharlal Nehru, guided the country to independence in 1947.

In the opposition, there is no one else with Modis personality, character and credibility, said Prabhakar Kumar, the head of CMS Media Labs, a research group that analyses media and political trends.

Bharatiya Janata supporters in Delhi celebrate their partys major victories. Photograph: Tsering Topgyal/AP

There are no dents to his image, no corruption. Whether or not people agree with his way or working or his policies, there is a perception that this person works 24 hours a day and has boundless energy.

Such a decisive victory in the Hindi-speaking heartland confirms the BJP as Indias premier political force, with around 80% of the country now residing in states governed by the party, Kumar added.

The BJP, whose manifesto explictly casts India as a Hindu nation, in contrast to the archly secular principles on which the country was founded, appeared also to have swept heavily Muslim areas. Among them was Muzaffarnagar, where more than 60 people were killed in Hindu-Muslim riots in 2013.

These wins came in spite of the party not running a single Muslim candidate in the state and some party members making Hindutva appeals, trying to stoke a pan-Hindu identity among a faith group traditionally riven by caste distinctions.

Modi himself drew flack in February for telling an election rally that if electricity is given uninterrupted in [the Muslim feast of] Ramzan, then it should be given in [the Hindu festival] Diwali implying the Samajwadi party had been favouring Muslim communities over Hindus.

Kumar said religious polarisation definitely added value for the BJP, but noted that all parties in the diverse state had sought to carve up the electorate along caste and religious lines.

Every single party, the whole discourse of the mainstream media, was about caste and religion, he said. There was hardly any serious discussion on the basis of development. The main focus was polarisation and all parties contributed to that.

Akhilesh Yadav, the states chief minister, accepted his partys defeat on Saturday and wished the new government well. Gandhi used Twitter to also congratulate Modi and the BJP.

Four other states announced election results on Saturday the BJP winning comfortably in Uttarakhand, and battling Congress in close polls in Manipur and Goa. Congress decisively won the Punjab contest.

The Aam Aadmi party, born out of an anti-corruption activist movement in 2013 and which controls the capital, Delhi, suffered a setback to its hopes of establishing itself as the third force in Indian national politics.

The party struggled to win any seats in Goa and, late on Saturday, falling well short of Congresss total in Punjab.

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Sunny Pawar in Lion: He was just a normal boy; now a Hollywood star lives in our area

The eight-year-old actor received a heros welcome as he returned home to a slum from the Oscars. His family are dealing with the fame from his role in Lion

Its 11am and the Pawar family are dressed to impress. The women have put on sparkling saris and the men are in clean, ironed shirts. The man of the moment, eight-year-old Sunny, the child star of the Oscar-nominated film Lion, is inside the house, getting his face aggressively powdered by an aunt, while an uncle sprays him with perfume and adjusts his oversized jacket. Ive come at a bad time, clearly, but the family are polite enough to invite me to stay as they prepare for a photo op with a local politician.

The domestic chaos is a stark contrast to the glitzy, star-studded life Sunny has led for the past three months while touring America to promote the film. Sunny plays a young Saroo Brierley, who was separated from his biological mother aged five before being adopted by Australian parents. The film, based on Brierleys autobiography, A Long Way Home, has received international acclaim, including six Academy Award nominations and two Bafta wins.

Sitting outside his family home in the Kunchi Kurve Nagar slum near Mumbais airport, Sunny recalls being whisked around the world with an international film crew. It was like a dream, he says. Neither he nor his father had left India. First Kolkata, then Indore, then Australia and then America for three months.

The whirlwind journey ended last week after the Oscars, where a beaming Sunny was lifted into the air by the host Jimmy Kimmel, as The Lion Kings title track played in the background. Some have criticised Kimmel for using Sunny as a prop in a racist joke, but Sunny doesnt see it that way. It was fun. I loved it, he says.

Sunny and his father returned to India on a flight that landed at 2am on Wednesday. A swarm of local news crews and journalists greeted them at the airport along with a mob of relatives. He has brought a good name to our whole family, says Raviraj, a distant relative who was there. We all went and nobody knew where the arrival gate was, so all of us were squashed in that airport lift, going up and down until we found him.

They beat drums, they set off fireworks, says Dilip, Sunnys father. They brought flowers and covered him with garlands. The reporters crowded around him, Sunny look here, Sunny do this. They even came back to our house with us, and they stayed until 4am. They wouldnt leave until Sunnys grandfather shouted at them for harassing the kid, he says.

In Mumbai, home to the worlds most prolific film industry, making it into the movies is the epitome of success. Thousands of people travel to the city from small towns and villages around the country every day, hoping to be cast in a Bollywood blockbuster. But with a tightly knit, powerful film fraternity that rarely embraces outsiders, successes like Sunnys are few and precious. He was selected from over 2,000 children, says Dilip. They came to his school to do auditions, and the director says he was a natural in front of the camera.

Sunnys family are from humble origins. His father used to sweep streets, but was fired for having too many days off to take Sunny to auditions. For the past two years, he has been Sunnys business manager, touring the world and helping him practise lines on set. I never, ever thought Id reach this point in my life, says Dilip. My first son, and he has made me so proud.

The film has turned Sunny into a local hero. Posters slapped on the slums walls read: Congratulations Sunny on your achievement. Outside the house, the family have set up a stage, carpeted in red and covered in confetti left over from a welcome home ceremony. There is a floor-to-ceiling photo montage of Sunny meeting American celebrities, as well as Barack Obama and Bill Clinton.

Children from the slum who wander past after school point excitedly at the pictures, whispering, Thats Sunny meeting the Rock, referring to the WWE wrestler-turned-actor, Dwayne Johnson. All of them claim theyve watched Sunnys film, though its easy to call their bluff as none of them recognises Dev Patel, the films lead actor, who also starred in Slumdog Millionaire. He must be some singer or something, says one child. No, hes Sunnys acting coach, says another.

He was just a normal little boy, says Vasu, Sunnys mother. Now everybody says, Oh, a Hollywood star lives in our neighbourhood. Overnight, Ive become the mother of a movie star. She admits she hasnt seen the film yet. I was waiting for Sunny and his dad to come home so we could watch it together, as a family. But Im so proud.

Sunny was only five when he started auditioning for the role of Saroo. Between travelling to locations for shoots, he attends the government-run Air India Modern school where, he says, he gets none of the benefits of being a movie star. None of the kids treat me differently. Its exactly the same as before. They havent even seen the film, he says.

The role has given Sunny new ambitions. I want to work in Hollywood, Bollywood, everything, he says. Ive learned so much, like the sign language of the director for example. When he signals, I know I have to be sad, he says. Its hard work. You have to follow all their instructions and you have to try to show real emotion, from the heart.

Nobody ever taught him to act. He learned it on his own by watching TV, says Dilip. He loves watching Rajinikanth, he says, referring to a south Indian actor whose film release dates have been declared holidays by companies in an effort to avoid hundreds of staff requests for leave.

I like his action scenes, says Sunny, jumping in. I hope I can work in an action movie like that one day.

Though Dilip and Sunnys tour of America coincided with Donald Trumps arrival in the White House, they remained oblivious to rising anti-immigrant sentiment sweeping the country. We got there when Obama was still president so we didnt have any visa troubles like I know others have, Dilip says, in reference to Asghar Farhadi, the Iranian film-maker who could not travel to America to receive his Oscar because of Trumps travel ban. We did not feel for a second like foreigners there. The people there have done so much for us, says Dilip. When you go to work, they give you so much respect and love. The whole public is appreciating Sunny, they made him a suit to wear, they took him to the Oscars. They treated us like we were members of their family, really. There was no question about race or religion.

Despite their new fame, the family still live in their same small house. I ask naively to see Sunnys bedroom. Dilip laughs. This is chawl, madam. There are no bedrooms here, he says, referring to labourers accommodation. He shows me a brightly coloured room with peeling paint and bare walls, except a Ganesh-themed calendar. Here we roll out mattresses and sleep.

Outside, in a metal cupboard, the family keep their valuables. Perfumes and jewellery are pulled out, tested and replaced, as they rush to get ready to visit the local politician who has asked to meet Kunchi Kurve Nagars new star. I ask how many people live under the same roof. Its our whole extended family, Dilip says. Ive never counted but it must be more than 50 of us.

Sunnys family were initially reluctant to let him work in the film. One of Sunnys aunts had cancer, she was very sick. At that time, we were trying to sort out all his passport, visas, so he could travel. Then she died, and in our tradition, you have to spend a month in mourning. So we were going to pull out of the whole thing, Dilip recalls. I had told the producers no, we cant come. But then the family really supported us. They said, no you have to go, its such a big opportunity for Sunny. And he really wanted to do it. So we went.

Two taxis pull up outside the house and the family pile in. The politician is waiting, one relative says, hinting that our interview has concluded. I ask Dilip what he plans for Sunnys future, and whether he will go back to work. Lets see, he says. For now, all our days are filled with doing interviews and meet-and-greets. Sunny will go back to school, he will take his exams. But maybe he will get more film work. Who knows? We havent planned anything.

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Indian police accused of raping women in restive Chhattisgarh state

Countrys human rights watchdog says it has identified 16 cases in which security forces grossly violated victims rights

The Indian governments human rights watchdog has accused police of raping and beating at least 16 women from tribal communities in Chhattisgarh, a central state racked by a 50-year Maoist insurgency.

The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) said there were 20 alleged attacks still to be investigated, but that in 16 cases the human rights of the victims have been grossly violated by the security personnel.

It was investigating a report published in the Indian Express that police had committed abuses against women in several villages in Bijapur district during an operation against rebels in October 2015.

Women Against Sexual Violence and State Repression (WSS), an advocacy group whose members met the alleged victims, told the newspaper police had committed violence on a mass scale.

Around 40 women have said that they were forced to strip, sexually harassed and assaulted, one WSS member said. They allegedly included a 14-year-old girl who was grazing cattle when she was said to have been raped by several officers.

The NHRC said it believed eight women had been raped, six sexually abused and two physically assaulted. It asked the Chhattisgarh government to show why the women should not be paid compensation of up to 300,000 rupees (3,600).

The investigation had turned up more complaints of sexual violence committed by security personnel in Bijapur and other districts in the state, the watchdog added.

Chhattisgarh, around 1,000 miles from Delhi, is part of a red corridor stretching from Andhra Pradesh to West Bengal where thousands of armed communist fighters have waged a 50-year rebellion against the government.

Thousands of civilians, mostly members of poor and remote tribes, have been killed in the fighting, which the Maoists claim is over jobs and rights for farmers and landless labourers.

Indian security forces are regularly accused of committing extrajudicial killings, arson and rape in the affected regions. The Maoists have also been implicated in civilian deaths, including by sabotaging a crowded passenger train in West Bengal that crashed and killed 100 passengers.

Kishore Narayan, who represents 14 of the victims the NHRC has identified, told Agence France-Presse that the human rights agency had backed its claims and accused the police of deliberately shielding the culprits.

The victims gave the names of the policemen involved in the barbarity, but nothing has happened. They carried out a sham investigation and are trying to obfuscate the case, Narayan said.

He said they had filed a petition in the Chhattisgarh high court demanding an investigation by a special police team from outside the state.

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Best photographs of the day: from bends in a box to ice-shattering in India

The Guardians picture editors bring you a choice of photo highlights from around the world, including worlds most flexible woman and a man with a strong abdomen

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Millions of people with mental illnesses in China and India going untreated, study finds

Lack of trained mental health professionals, low investment and high stigma means people lose years of their lives to illness, says the Lancet

One third of the global burden of mental illness defined as healthy years lost to an illness falls on China and India, where millions go untreated because of stigma and lack of resources, research published in the Lancet has found.

In China, less than 6% of people with anxiety and depression, substance use disorders, dementia and epilepsy seek treatment while in India, only about one in 10 people is thought to receive specialist help.

A lack of trained mental health professionals, poor access to mental health services, low investment, and high levels of stigma prevent individuals in both countries from accessing treatment. Less than 1% of the national health budget in either country is allocated to mental health care.

We manage an astonishing degree of disregard in not treating a large majority of people with mental illnesses in every country on earth, said Graham Thornicroft, professor of community psychiatry at the Centre for Global Mental Health at Kings College London.

He added: In my opinion, the under-treatment of people with mental illness is a major scandal and governments must recognise not just the direct impact of mental illness but also the indirect ways it harms peoples lives.

Researchers led by Fiona J Charlson said that the burden of mental health problems had increased in both countries over a 13-year period. In China, mental, neurological and substance use disorders accounted for 7% of all [years of healthy life of the whole population] in 1990, rising to 11% by 2013. Similarly in India, the proportion of all burden explained by mental, neurological, and substance use disorders rose from 3% in 1990 to 6% in 2013, they write.

The burden of mental illness will increase in the next ten years in both countries, the researchers added. Estimates suggest that by 2025, 36.9m years of healthy life will be lost to mental illness in China (10% increase), and 38.1m in India (23% increase).

The findings come at a time when the UN has, for the first time, begun to recognise mental health as a global priority. In their sustainable development goals, they have included mental health as one of the key targets and they are now finalising their decisions around a number of indicators to measure mental health around the world and how it can improve over the next 15 years.

Depression and anxiety are the most common mental health problems among working age adults (aged 20-69 years) in both India and China, with higher numbers of women with the conditions than men. Substance use disorders were more prevalent in men, meanwhile, with the burden of drug dependence disorders more than twice as high for men as women, and the burden of alcohol use disorders nearly seven times higher for men.

Dementia is a growing problem for both countries. From 2015 to 2025, it is estimated that the number of healthy years lost due to dementia will increase by 82% in India and by 56% in China.

Since medical systems are failing to address the mental health treatment gap alone, Kamaldeep Bhui, professor of cultural psychiatry and epidemiology at Queen Mary University of London suggested alternative methods of coping with the crisis. He said: Given the lack of trained professionals in India and China, and affordable and effective public mental health systems of care, alternative models of skilling local people are needed to promote mental health and deliver treatment.

In their research, authors led by Jagadisha Thirthalli suggest that traditional medicine practitioners, prevalent in both India and China, could be trained to recognise and refer patients who are a risk to themselves and others, or to advise patients against stopping their medication. People use alternative medicine for a number of reasons including faith, culture, cost and a belief they are safer, but the authors say more research is needed to understand the effectiveness and potential risks of these therapies.

Stigma associated with mental health problems in the two countries also impacts on employment opportunities and therefore the social economic status of families, compounding social inequalities for those with mental health and substance use disorders.

Bhui agreed that tackling stigma was a priority. He said: Providing just legal and policy frameworks should drive reform, so that people are not deprived the very basis and affordable treatments that the rest of the world takes for granted.

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