Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Do we really need a Mars mission?

Does India really need a mission to Mars when it is facing so many other challenges? It is not even a month since North India suffered an electrical grid failure, which pushed more than 600 million people in the country to darkness for two straight days. Not to forget the fact that it entered the history as the world’s worst power outage!
The ISRO on the other day announced that the officials are waiting for the cabinet approval of the $80 million-mission. Their Mars mission comes when the country is still weighed down under the burden of power shortage, poor sanitation, less monsoon,
When the country is reeling under poverty, unable to provide basic needs to its citizens, don’t we feel this Red Planet mission is kind of a luxury? I agree that the country should compete with the developed countries when it comes to science and technology, but at what cost? Don’t our leaders see that more than half of the children in our country are malnourished, which even our Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had agreed, some time ago? It was not long ago, but this January when the PM called the country’s malnutrition levels a “national shame”. Of the age below five years, “42% of children are underweight”, yes, that’s official! Who will deny that half of the families in the country have no access to sanitation?
Is India competing with its neighbor China when it comes to space mission? It’s an open secret that both the countries have had races to launch moon missions and other projects over the last decade. And it’s only last month, in June, that China sent its first female astronaut into space in a mission to dock with the country’s orbiting space laboratory. The 10-day mission will see the crew of three carry out the first manned docking with the Tiangong-1 space lab, a vital step in China’s goal to have a working space station by 2020.
However, what shouldn’t go unmentioned here is the fact that India suffered a setback in 2010, when it tried to launch a communication satellite. It was not the first, but the second launching failure in less than a year. The advanced GSAT-5P communication satellite, launched from the Satish Dhawan space centre at Sriharikota, Andhra Pradesh, had disappeared in plumes of smoke within seconds after blastoff. Ever wondered how much it had cost for the ISRO, rather say country? The rocket had cost nearly Rs 1.75 billion ($38 milion), while the satellite had cost Rs 1.25 billion ($27 million).
And in 2008, ISRO had launched a satellite – Chandrayaan-1 -- to orbit the moon, but was abandoned a year later due to failure in the communication links and scientists had lost control of the satellite. Agreed that the launch has put India in an elite club of countries with moon missions, such as the United States, Russia, the European Space Agency, Japan and China. And since 1960, there have been 44 missions to Mars with just about half of them being successful; attempts have been made by the former USSR and Russia, the US, Europe, Japan and China.
India began its space programme in the 1960s and since 1975, has launched more than 50 remote sensing and communication satellites of its own and 22 for other nations.
And what more, ISRO is planning to send its first manned space flight in 2016. Any idea how much the ISRO has sought for this project? Rs 120 billion, to put two astronauts in space for a week and the government has already provided a pre-project fund of about Rs 4 billion allowing the scientists to do some initial research on the space flight.
When asked if the country should take up such a mission, which costs so much on the exchequer, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had justified it, in 2006. ‘‘We have to walk on two legs to deal with the fundamental problems of development and, at the same time, set our sights sufficiently high so that we can operate on the frontiers of science and technology… In the increasingly globalised world we live in, a base of scientific and technical knowledge has emerged as a critical determinant of the wealth and status of nations and it is that which drives us to programmes of this type.’’
Ironically, ISRO’s homepage highlights a statement by Vikram Sarabhai, father of the Indian space programme, in which he hails the technology and says that they are not competing with other nations: “There are some who question the relevance of space activities in a developing nation. To us, there is no ambiguity of purpose. We do not have the fantasy of competing with the economically advanced nations in the exploration of the moon or the planets or manned space-flight. But we are convinced that if we are to play a meaningful role nationally, and in the comity of nations, we must be second to none in the application of advanced technologies to the real problems of man and society.” But we are not fools to forget the fact that ISRO has projects in all the three areas -- exploration of the moon, the planets and the manned space flight!  

ISRO is also expected to launch a Mars Orbiter as early as November 2013. The mission was boosted five months ago when the national budget set aside Rs 1.25 billion ($22.4 million) in the current financial year. But wait, the project is yet to get the cabinet nod.

The news of this Mars mission generated varied reactions in newspapers and websites. Some mocked the ambitions as a mere waste of resources which could help beat the hunger and poverty in the country, while some others praised the country for competing with the developed nations.

post by Srini (Hyderabad) on The Times of India website said: “Our country cannot take care of people, education, safety, infrastructure (roads, electricity, food) and disasters. However, we are ready to spend loads of money and send a spacecraft to Mars. We cannot conquer India (Ex: Issues in Assam), politicians face is in their rare end, they talk with rear end, cannot control terrorism, poor with discipline... my god the list goes on. Here we are, ready to go to Mars. What a stupid decision ! it is not even buying defensive equipment to protect from evils but something else. Shame on India... Jai Hind.”

Yet another post by Sri (US) asked: “Shall we get access to clean water and toilets in all villages in India before going to mars.”

post by human (earth) said: “this isnt right there are over half a billion indians who dont have enough to eat ,no education and no future.The government shud nt be wasting billions of dollars on this.”

post by Rani (Bangalore) said: “Totally agree. What will this mission proof and how will it benefit these millions who need the basics of life. May send all these corrupt people of India to live on Mars and then India will be best place to live.”

post by Sir Baby De Porky said: “They have caught some materialistic virus from the West , and think that this ” bolts and nuts ” technological chimera is something to waste money on …
When Indians are fools , they are the biggest fools , because they have the real
and highest spiritual knowledge , but are instead bewitched by the glitter of
Western style ” progress ”…
P.S. My Guru ( from India ) would have blasted them for that !!!”

So, do we really need such a mission? Can’t we help eradicate poverty and improve infrastructure?

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