From India to Mars: The Voyage of #Mangalyaan
Many years ago, during my college days, I saw a magazine cover article on India’s space program. This was back when that country first started providing Earth-orbiting launch services shortly after that industry first began. It showed a man leading an ox-cart full of hay down a jungle road, back-dropped by a rocket launch.
Now Earth-orbiting satellites are a huge industry and India has become one of the fastest growing economies in the world. Their policies concerning debt mean that they have weathered the last couple of recessions better than most, but their leaders admit that they still have two populations, and one of those remains very poor. The conflict in Kashmir rages on as Islamic fundamentalists and Pakistan struggle to establish Shiria Law in the India’s Muslim-dominated North. The country is also uncivilized in several other serious ways that I would like to see reformed. Some look at India’s list of problems and say that they can’t afford a space program.
Earlier this week, the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) launched a Mars probe which some call MOM (for Mars Orbital Mission) or Mangalyaan. Earth’s oceans, Solar orbit and the Mars surface are littered with the bones of failed Mars spacecraft, so this probe still has a long way to go yet before anyone can call it an unqualified success. Be that as it may, each milestone achieved makes history and forges a new future for India. If it arrives in Mars orbit successfully, it will perform some new experiments that will add to the world’s knowledge-base regarding the atmosphere of Mars, though its primary mission is just developing and testing the capability to get there.
Here’s the thing. This knowledge-base of which I speak is not just some numbers on a computer printout somewhere, it resides in the expert-base and technical infrastructure of the country. The experience that they gain, the capabilities that they develop, and the reputation that they forge will be resources that other people the world over will need going forward. Knowledge is power, and power is position and opportunity and in the new space race that positioning is more valuable than gold. At a measly $69 Million U.S. for this mission, India is spending proverbial pennies on the dollar to possibly become the fourth Mars-capable country of the world.
That is the reality and anyone who thinks otherwise has blinders on. Even while Mars is still nothing more than a scientific interest, knowledge about how to get there already brings positive returns on investment. However, at some future, as yet unknown, date someone will discover something about Mars that is unique, valuable, and unavailable here on Earth. It is…well, I don’t know yet, but it will trigger a fervor that historians will later liken to the Gold Rush in the United States. Everyone with Mars experience will then become part of a new industrial revolution that will produce unimaginable wealth for the few infrastructures around the world that possess Mars expertise, and provide high-paying, high-tech jobs for millions of people. India wants to be one of those few, and rightly so.
I hope that their probe achieves Mars orbit. Such efforts cost such a small amount in comparison to their benefit. Kudos to India for investing in their future…spending money paying people who will build a hope for the country and its poor.
- Orbit of India’s Mars mission raised further (indiavision.com)
- Mars spacecraft orbit raised again (thehindu.com)
- India Successfully Launches Its Mars Orbiter (forbes.com)
- India Mars probe makes first burn (bbc.co.uk)
- Mars spacecraft’s orbit to be raised early tomorrow (thehindu.com)
- Liftoff! India’s First Mars Probe Launches Toward the Red Planet (space.com)