October 23, 2013
India’s Mars Victory In Asian Space Race
Within the next month, India will launch a spacecraft to Mars, a move that will see it join the space elite. If the mission is successful, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) will become only the fourth space agency to complete a mission to Mars, joining those of the US, Europe and Russia.
The prestige is an important part of this. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced the mission from the walls of the Red Fort in Delhi during his Independence Day speech in August last year; both building and occasion are strongly connected to national pride.
It seems that China is the main competition that India wants to get one over on with this endeavor. China tried to send a spacecraft to Mars in 2011, but it was aborted due to a technical problem. At that point India fast-tracked its own Mars project. In a BBC interview, Pallava Bagla, science editor of New Delhi television news, said: “If India does beat China to Mars you can imagine the national pride.”
It makes sense that China would be in India’s sights. They are the other major, quickly emerging nation in Asia, but are ahead by most measures. Japan, of course, has a long established space program and has led economically for decades in Asia. But they are already out on their own, whereas China and India know that the eyes of the world are currently on both of them as Asia’s new powerhouses.
The extent to which India should want to be basking in world glory while 400 million of its people still live in poverty is a question that was always going to be asked. There is poverty in every country, and therefore every country that has a space program, so is it just a matter of volume? Is getting a lot of people out of poverty more important than space exploration, but a few can be sacrificed?
Mr. Balga thinks that the question isn’t logical anyway; he says that the £60 million the project is costing is a drop in the ocean compared to what would be needed to get India’s millions out of poverty.
More likely, a general shift towards modernization and a hi-tech economy will have a bigger effect in the long run, even if it seems more indirect than pumping money into the problem. Space programs are a part of that process. Whatever the answer, it seems that involvement in space related development is always political, whether internationally in terms of status or domestically in terms of budget.
Regardless of the arguments, India will aim to take its spacecraft to Mars before the launch window closes on November 19th. The launch date will probably be early November. The original plan was to launch on October 28th, but bad weather over the Pacific meant that the launch was put back for a week. Weather permitting; India will give China one in the eye before very long.
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