On 31st August 1949, the Constituent Assembly was slotting 'items' into the Union and State Lists. The Union government would have legislative and executive power over the ‘Union List’ and the State government would enjoy the same over the 'State List'. 

H.V. Kamath proposed to add ‘interplanetary travel’ to the Union List and promptly the assembly members burst into laughter. Kamath was unmoved:

within the last fifty years there has been more advance in the various fields of science than in the previous five hundred years…researches in X-rays, medicine, jet propelled planes of which we hear so much today, we can expect many big changes in the near future. The advance has been remarkable, phenomenal…

For Kamath, interplanetary travel would emerge from the predicament that humans were likely to encounter in the future ‘when the earth becomes more and more populated and congested’. He also predicted that humans would soon reach the Earth's satellite - the moon.

Nazzirudin Ahamd seemed to be the only Assembly member who seriously engaged with Kamath’s amendment. He argued that Kamath’s amendment had a flaw: ‘interplanetary travel’ did not cover ‘travel between the planets and the satellites and between the satellites’. 

The Assembly, unsurprisingly, rejected both amendments.

It was not really Kamath’s federal point that the Assembly seems to have ridiculed. It is plausible that the Assembly would have agreed that any space-related activity should be placed under the exclusive domain of the Union government (which is what happened when India began its space program). It was Kamath’s predictions about the pace of technological progress that garnered disbelief.  

Turns out, Kamath was reasonably on point with his future-gazing.  He wagered that humans would reach the moon in 25 years. Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon in 1968, 20 years after Kamath's speech. 

Also, Kamath’s reasoning that interstellar travel would be a necessity in light of human population growth and the resulting strain on earth’s resources mirrors SpaceX CEO Elon Musk’s belief that the future of humans was interstellar. Just like Kamath, Musk’s vision was not taken seriously until the recent monumental successes in SpaceX’s rocket technology program and the increasingly loud alarm bells of climate change.

 

The editorial team sends out a weekly desk brief. If you wish to be on our mailing list, subscribe here.