Editorial 1: India-U.S. space cooperation, from handshake to hug


  • India and the United States agreeing to advance space collaboration in several areas, under the ‘initiative on critical and emerging technology’ (ICET) umbrella, including human space exploration and commercial space partnership, comes at a crucial time for both countries. This follows from the eighth meeting of the U.S.-India Civil Space Joint Working Group (CSJWG), that was held on January 30-31, 2023.

Space research:

  • In November 2022, the U.S. kicked off its Artemis programme by launching the Orion spacecraft towards the moon and bringing it safely back to earth.
  • India itself is set to embark on its first human spaceflight mission (Gaganyaan) in 2024.
  • The two countries have also taken significant strides in advancing the private space sector. Together, these endeavours will shape and impact U.S. and Indian space policies and programmes over the next decade. In this context, a U.S.-India collaboration seems straightforward.
  • India could secure technologies and expertise by collaborating with an advanced spacefaring nation; the U.S. could strengthen its relationship with India on a matter that seems less controversial than others.
  • But it is not straightforward: certain structural factors limit the extent to which the U.S. and India can collaborate in the short term. This is why India-U.S. cooperation can advance at a measured pace, to enable sustainable long-term civilian and military space partnerships.

A mismatch in interests, capabilities

  • The first structural factor that limits long-term India-U.S. space cooperation is the mismatch in the two nations’ interests in outer space. The U.S. has committed to returning to the moon — and this time to stay there for the long term. Although the U.S. and its partners stress the importance of maintaining capabilities in low-earth orbit, their ambitions are firmly set on the moon.
  • In this regard, the Artemis Program, the Artemis Accords, and the Biden administration’s National Cislunar Science & Technology Strategy constitute the foundation for American ambitions beyond earth orbits.
  • Meanwhile, India’s scientific community focuses on building the nation’s capability in and under earth orbits. The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) currently undertakes fewer than 10 launches each year. The Gaganyaan human spaceflight programme hopes to sustain India’s human presence in space for the long term. This is not to say that India does not aim for the moon, Mars or beyond. But India’s top priority is to substantially increase its satellite and launch capabilities in earth orbits and catch up with other spacefaring nations such as China.
  • The asymmetry in capabilities is the second structural factor limiting India-U.S. space cooperation. The U.S. has the highest number of registered satellites in space. It also has a range of launch vehicles serving both commercial and national-security needs. Private entity SpaceX, for example, managed to achieve a record 61 launches in 2022, far higher than the number of launches undertaken by any other commercial entity or country. The American private sector has also assumed the challenge of replacing the International Space Station (ISS) by 2030 with many smaller stations.
  • The greatest challenge for India here is lack of capacity. The country has just over 60 satellites in orbit and cannot undertake double-digit launches annually. The Indian government also opened the space industry to the private sector only in 2020. Since the U.S. already has an extensive network of partners for space cooperation, it has few technical incentives to cooperate with India.
  • Compounding these problems are disagreements on how best to govern space activities on the moon and other celestial bodies. Even though countries have a mindset to collaborate, the structural factors overpower diplomatic incentives to pursue long-term cooperation.

Way forward: Some novel solutions

  • The standard solution to induce long-term cooperation is to sustain the engagement between academics, the private sector and state-led entities in the two countries. Sustained engagement could also take the form of collaborating on highly specialised projects such as the NASA-ISRO Synthetic Aperture Radar (NISAR) mission.
  • But these solutions are slow and not entirely suited for the new space age, where diplomacy struggles to keep up with the rate of technological innovation. So, India and the U.S. must find novel solutions to cooperate in the new space age to achieve a meaningful partnership.
  • One form of cooperation is a partnership between state and private entities; or, as agreed in the most recent meeting, a convention of American and Indian aerospace companies to advance collaboration under the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) programme.
  • Such an arrangement could be taken further. India could send its astronauts to train at American private companies. This could help India reduce its dependence on Russia while ISRO builds its own astronaut training centre.
  • Another novel arrangement could be a consortium led by the government-owned NewSpace India Limited (NSIL) which involves private companies in the U.S. This setup could accelerate India’s human spaceflight programme and give the U.S. an opportunity to accommodate Indian interests in earth orbits.


India and USA can break new frontiers in space research and strategic cooperation as ‘natural allies’. But for that, Indian space agency and private sector (in space research) must build their capacity and bridge the existing gap with USA.

Editorial 2: Mammalian spread of H5N1 and its pandemic potential


  • Avian influenza, or bird flu, is a highly contagious viral infection that primarily affects birds. Infrequently, the virus can infect mammals from birds, a phenomenon called spillover, and rarely can spread between mammals.

Subtypes of avian influenza:

  • There are several different subtypes of avian influenza viruses, ranging from low pathogenic to highly pathogenic types that can cause severe illness and death in birds.
  • Avian Influenza (AI) type A viruses are divided into subtypes based on two proteins on the surface of the virus:
  1. Hemagglutinin (HA), of which there are 16 subtypes (H1-H16)
  2. Neuraminidase (NA), of which there are 9 subtypes (N1-N9)
  • Many combinations of HA and NA proteins are possible (i.e., H5N1, H5N2, H7N2, H7N8, etc).
  • AI viruses are also classified into two groups based on their ability to produce disease in chickens: highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) or low pathogenic avian influenza (LPAI).
  • HPAI viruses cause high mortality in poultry and occasionally high death rates in certain species of wild birds.
  • LPAI viruses can cause a variety of outcomes in poultry ranging from no apparent clinical signs to moderate death rates. LPAI viruses usually cause little to no signs in wild birds.
  • H5 and H7 LPAI viruses have the potential to mutate or evolve into HPAI viruses and are closely monitored by animal health officials.

Cause for concern: H5N1

  • H5N1 is a highly pathogenic subtype of avian influenza that causes severe disease and death in birds. This subtype has caused a number of human infections through close contact with infected birds, or contaminated environments and is often fatal.
  • Recent reports of H5N1 transmission between mammals therefore raise concerns about its potential to cause a human pandemic. The H5N1 subtype has the potential to spill over to other mammals such as minks, ferrets, seals and domestic cats when the animals come in contact with infected birds or their feces or consume carcasses of infected birds and further serve as reservoirs.

Past outbreaks

  • The H5N1 avian influenza virus was first detected in 1996 in China. In 2004, H5N1 was reported in several countries in Asia, and further a global outbreak which continues to date. In 2013 and 2014, many countries in Europe and Asia reported H5N1 in poultry.
  • Over the years the virus has caused outbreaks across the world, predominantly spread by migratory birds. Till date, over 800 cases of human H5N1 infections have also been reported, with a high fatality of 53%.
  • A new strain of H5N1 rapidly spread across Asia, Africa and Europe and subsequently to North and South America by 2021 and 2022, respectively. Many mammals were also infected in these outbreaks, including human infections.
  • Recently, scientists have been investigating a potential mammalian spillover event after a mass mortality event which killed over 700 seals along Russia’s Caspian Sea coast where a H5N1 variant was detected in wild birds a few months ago.
  • Influenza H5N1 can rarely infect humans through direct contact with animals, but often causes severe disease and death. In addition, the widespread H5N1 outbreaks have substantial economic impact, resulting from significant losses to the poultry industry and threatening food and vaccine security (due to the use of eggs for vaccine production), apart from raising animal welfare and environmental concerns.

Way forward:

  • Preventing H5N1 spillovers and outbreaks requires a combination of measures including
  1. vaccination of poultry
  2. safe disposal of dead birds
  3. quarantine and culling of affected animals
  4. wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) when handling birds
  5. improved surveillance and monitoring of H5N1 in birds and other animals.
  • Human vaccines against H5N1 avian influenza have been designed to protect against the most severe forms of the disease. However, the highly mutable nature of the H5N1 virus could potentially decrease vaccine efficacy over time. Therefore, molecular surveillance of avian influenza and its subtypes is essential in understanding and responding to outbreaks.
  • Genome sequencing can be employed to monitor mutations in the virus, the emergence of new subtypes, and keep a close watch on mutations and virulence factors that may increase the ability to infect humans. This can inform public health decisions and guide the deployment of more effective control measures.

One Health Approach (OHA):

  • One Health is an approach that recognizes that the health of people is closely connected to the health of animals and our shared environment.
  • One Health’ vision derives its blueprint from the agreement between the tripartite-plus alliance comprising the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE).
  • It’s purpose is to encourage collaborations in research and sharing of knowledge at multiple levels across various disciplines like human health, animal health, plants, soil, environmental and ecosystem health in ways that improve, protect and defend the health of all species.


In summary, although the risk of H5N1 to infect and spread among humans has been evaluated as low, disease and genomic surveillance as an integrated approach to controlling avian influenza are needed to keep a close watch on the outbreak. As we learned from the COVID-19 outbreak, monitoring the evolution of the shapeshifting virus can add to the preparedness against another potential pandemic.


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