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Great Leap Into Space

Updated: December 23, 2013 12:03 pm

The successful launch of the Mars Orbiter Mission is an outstanding achievement and a step in the right direction. The launch rocket has placed the Mars Orbiter spacecraft very precisely into an elliptical orbit around Earth. The launch vehicle carrying an unmanned probe was monitored by dozens of ISRO scientists who face their most daunting task since India began its space programme in 1963. The 350-tonne Mangalyaan is the size of a small car and is meant to make a 300-day journey to study the Martian atmosphere. It is scheduled to begin orbiting Mars by September, searching for methane and signs of minerals. The mission will cost $73 million (£45 million), compared with the United States’ ‘Curiosity’ mission to Mars, which launched in 2011 at a cost of $2.5 billion (£1.56 billion). For India, the mission is about proving the value of its indigenous rocket and instrument technology to inspire its own scientists and open a new frontier on infinitely cheaper space missions. At a time when we read and hear only bad news of political blame game, charges and counter-charges of corruption and exploitation of the weaker sections of society, the news of the successful launch of the PSLV carrying a satellite to Mars is soothing and encouraging. We hope and pray that the various milestones of the mission will be accomplished proving to the world that although we may lag behind in many social and economic standards, we are next to none in scientific talent. For this, scientists and engineers of ISRO should be congratulated on completing the project at record speed and budget.

Here I would like to mention about the objection raised by a section of intellectuals in India, who said that a person should not apply oil to his moustache when there is no grain in the house. I would like to ask them: Had ISRO not undertaken the Mars Mission, would food grains have been distributed to all the needy? Poverty should not be a hindrance to enlightenment. Hence, the criticism of the Mars mission is unwarranted. We have just spent crores this Diwali on rockets. Can’t we spend Rs. 460 crore on a space mission? The quest to understand space in India is as old as the Vedas. ISRO has revived the legacy by investing in and inventing advanced technology to explore space. The Mars Mission is not a show-off, but a step towards understanding the universe. Furthermore, India has a swelling cadre of scientific personnel with the know-how comparable to the US and Russia in the aerospace research. Therefore, the government has an obligation to give useful employment to these people. Otherwise, these people will be frustrated and will slowly leave for greener pastures in the US and Russia. Hopefully, this Mars Mission will be successful, unlike the ones of Japan and China, which will bring enormous prestige to India’s scientists.

The prime aim behind the Mars Mission is to know whether there is methane in that planet. This will direct that sometimes in the past there was life on it, because methane is formed out of presence of some bacteria on surface. If this mission succeeds in proving that the element is present there

(which could not be traced by US Rovers on Mar’s surface), then it will have stolen a march on its world rivals. It is worth mentioning here that only the Soviet Union, the US and Europe have succeeded in getting spacecraft to the fourth planet from the Sun. But a journey of 680 million kilometres that will take almost 300 days to complete, such deep space missions have inherent risks, especially for a country attempting one for the very first time, and failures litter the history of Mars exploration. Against this backdrop, there is still a very long way to go till the project is considered a success. But it cannot be gainsaid that every scientific development and initiative has a deep rooted benefit to the society. Knowledge is power. Our youth need not go overseas to learn and work with advanced space technology. India needs to horn its skills and knowledge to face the future challenges. Events like this will align us to pull together for the development of our nation. Detractors will ask silly questions about the fruitfulness of the money spent. The money spent is well worth. The question on the worth of our space mission cannot be weighed on the benefits we reap in other fields like agriculture and product manufacturing industries like textiles, machinery or edible items. It is like research relentlessly done on medical sciences to arrive at a point with cure for illnesses considered terminal so far.

Deepak Kumar Rath

Deepak Kumar Rath

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