Mars mission: our personal Star Trek episode

Why we need to spend more on science than on going to movies or cricket

By Vibha Varshney
Published: Wednesday 06 November 2013

PSLV lifts off to put Mars orbiter in Earth's orbit in the first phase of the satellite's journey to Ma

Though one could not see it very clearly, the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) taking off with the Mars orbiter was pretty audible. The roar could be heard for a few seconds, and in just around a minute, the great ball of fire over the trees surrounding the media centre at Satish Dhawan Space Centre at Sriharikota turned into a tail of smoke and disappeared into the horizon.

This is just the beginning of India's Mars Orbiter Mission and we would now get valuable scientific information from space. It may or may not be ground-breaking information, but that is what exploration is all about—you win some and you lose some. I, for one, would be following the journey of the Mars orbiter through space. It's like our personal Star Trek episode.

Space exploration in itself is exciting. The space seems never-ending and discoveries are just waiting to be made. Maybe our Mangalyaan would find or stumble upon something. Just because the US has already gone to space does not mean that it has been fully charted.

Unfortunately, most people in the country seem to have lost their scientific temper. ISRO has been getting a lot of flak for this Rs 450 crore mission. The same people who spend crores of rupees on entertainment—Shahrukh Khan-starrer Chennai Express earned more than Rs150 crore in the first week of release—seem averse to spending anything on science. More people would rather watch a cricket match than the launch of the Mars orbiter.

Journalists attending the press meeting after the launch once again asked the oft-repeated questions—should India be spending money on the mission when it has other priorities, malnutrition, for instance; and is the mission just to defeat China in the race in space? Chairperson of ISRO K Radhakrishnan justified the mission  by talking about the possible applications that could emerge.

Tangible benefits of space missions

Self reliance in the satellite sector is important to everyone. We use it in weather forecasting. It was important in predicting Phailin in time to prevent loss of lives (one must remember nearly 10,000 people had died in the super cyclone that struck Odisha in 1999), we use it in agriculture, and the list can go on. None of this would have been possible if we did not have space missions. Incidentally, USA's NASA was wrong in its predictions about Phailin.

NASA's mandate is to look for life on Mars. Compared to this, India's mandate to prove its technological capability of getting the orbiter close to Mars seems pretty lame. ISRO should have explained its mandate better. If journalists are still asking questions 20 months after the mission was conceived, the common person must be totally clueless. People would have celebrated the feat more if they understood how it would help them. Effective outreach is not rocket science.


India launches Mars-bound probe

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