An informal meeting with other amateur astronomers in the city soon followed the communication. There were six of us representing three different societies. I was representing the Planetary Society that had just approved creation of a volunteer network for Pakistan in November. The wait was over.
Since January, the entire astronomical community of Lahore has made quantum leaps in spreading space awareness. There has been unprecedented number of public star gazing events and lectures all over the province. Most recently in June, Pakistan's first Star peace event was held at the Planetarium in Lahore, and Pakistan’s largest stargazing event was held at the Rohtas Fort.
In April, the 100 hours of Astronomy were celebrated. In addition, throughout spring, special astronomy programs were aired on the radio. In addition, networking between enthusiasts has increased manifold as new online groups have sprung up.
While the primary focus is on astronomy, the Planetary Society’s Pakistan Network has decided to focus more on fundamental education and space advocacy, which it thinks are pre requisites for any large-scale exploration endeavors. Over the last two months, the network has designed a number of programs under this strategy. The foremost are the Space Advocacy 2009 and The Student Partnership program. Along with these is a program to hold small workshops on telescope making and related activities.
It is clear that significant ground has been gained; however, there is still much to be done. Space awareness is scarce; it is not a priority for the average Pakistani. In country plagued with economic hardship, terrorism, and political turmoil, this is understandable; but in the end, space will ultimately become unavoidable.
Expansion of essential infrastructure like telecommunication networks and renewable energy generation units will require specialist satellites that would need to be home grown and launched from home to save cost and train local human resources. Making the public realize these facts is perhaps the most formidable step in the process. With all the societies now working in high gear, it may be possible to see results at the grass root level by the end of the year.
However, if Pakistan needs to become a space faring nation despite socio-economic shortcomings, every year would need to be a year of astronomy, and everyone a space enthusiast.