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Ignoring Criticisms, India Shoots for Mars

Defying critics at home and abroad, the Indian Space Research Organization is preparing to launch its first interplanetary exploration satellite to Mars. Called the Mangalyaan—”Mars Craft”—the satellite is expected to launch tomorrow afternoon and will reach the Martian atmosphere in September 2014.

India has been criticized for spending $72 million on the project instead of on “toilets and teachers,” as the FT‘s Victor Mallet put it. Indeed, the statistics are jarring. According to the World Bank a third of the world’s poorest people live in India. “I don’t understand the importance of India sending a space mission to Mars when half of its children are undernourished and half of all Indian families have no access to sanitation,” the well-known economist Jean Drèze told the FT last year when the Mangalyaan project was being organized. “It seems to be part of the Indian elite’s delusional quest for superpower status.” Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who championed the Mars mission, has called India’s high level of malnutrition among children a “national shame.”

Others, however, were proud and hopeful. “We want to tell this country that Mars has a relevance.” said K. Radhakrishnan, the chairman of the ISRO. “Science leads to understanding.” Comments on Twitter and India’s English-language newspapers suggested those with internet access were excited by India joining an elite international group of countries able to send satellites to Mars. “An ambitious project yet again by the ISRO, making India Proud,” reads one comment at the Hindu. “All those corrupt organizations and officials should learn from examples set by the ISRO which is working with so much commitment and dedication towards it projects.” With elections looming, it’s not hard to see why Indian politicians might want to piggy-back on this kind of popular sentiment.

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  • jeburke

    I agree with the critics. India’s aspirations for influence and standing in the world and the region will be fulfilled handily if and when its economic growth kicks off, its people become reasonably affluent, and its GDP rises to world-class levels. One-shot prestige projects will help not at all.

  • Pete

    This space shot is done merely to stroke the ego on the Indian ruling class, and since when did that class ever give a damn about the average Indian?

  • Tim Godfrey

    $72 million is amazingly cheap for a space shot. If those numbers are correct and it works it would be huge advance for the world.

    The ‘we can’t look to space til we solve our problems at home argument’ is used the US too. It would have merit if the $72 million was not trivial compared to the 1.8 trillion Indian GDP.

    • megapotamus

      That is my immediate impression. Maybe we should just contract NASA to Bangalor. Peggy? Come in, Peggy. For the naysayers, astronomy is the basis for nearly all science. Astronomy brought us chemistry, advanced particle physics, nuclear power etc and it will bring whatever the next big advance is. Hooray for India. Two snaps up, in a circle.

      • megapotamus

        And why are we just hearing about this on launch day? At least I am.

  • piyu2cool

    Nothing but veiled racism at display here. How dare Brown people go to space when we are cutting our spending on shuttles. Solve your potty problems first. Become a poverty superpower. How dare you innovate and aim for the sky? Its White mans world. ….

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