India sending spacecraft to Mars for about 75% of 'Gravity' film budget

The Mangalyaan Mars Orbiter Spacecraft mounted in a rocket at the Satish Dhawan Space Center in India. Photo: Indian Space Research Organization, via NYT.

Saritha Rai, reporting for the New York Times on India’s recent launch of a spacecraft to Mars: "It is the $75 million mission’s thrifty approach to time, money and materials that is getting attention. Just days after the launch of India’s Mangalyaan satellite, NASA sent off its own Mars mission, five years in the making, named Maven. Its cost: $671 million. The budget of India’s Mars mission, by contrast, was just three-quarters of the $100 million that Hollywood spent on last year’s space-based hit, Gravity.” []

Notable Replies

  1. Amazing how much money you can save without Raytheon and Lockheed-Martin.

  2. Or Sandra Bullock and George Clooney.

  3. You forget that we didn't know nearly as much about the surface of either body until we sent people and robots to take a look. For all we knew before the 1970s, Mars could have been covered in exotic alien creepy-crawlies. Even today, there are loads and loads of things we don't know about those bodies because we've only begun to explore. "We know everything we need to know about the Moon/Mars/Europa/etc. already" smacks of both ignorance and arrogance.

    …isn't doing us much good while we leave our poor to starve and fight wars for the rich.

    If we halted scientific research until those problems were solved we might as well give up on the advancement of human knowledge now. "Sorry! No particle accelerators until we solve human greed and avarice!"

  4. Given that there's no reason to believe humans will ever fix all our messes, your question really amounts to "why pursue scientific knowledge for knowledge's sake?" There are practical answers to this question (i.e., we can't always predict how new knowledge might benefit us until we have said knowledge) but it's also a matter of philosophy.

    There were few tangible reasons for Galileo or Kepler to invest so much time and energy into their telescopes; it's not as if they could have foreseen a day when a heliocentric model of the solar system paved the way for man-made satellites which could revolutionize communication. And the 17th century certainly had its share of messes. So were those resources "wasted?" I would argue not.

  5. freeze says:

    Curiously, in the recent past, all international media stories about space research being conducted in India are almost always suffixed with the obligatory paragraph on the crushing poverty still being faced by millions of Indians and how that contrasts with the millions of dollars spent by India on space research.

    I am from Mumbai, India and belong to an income bracket that would be considered "middle class" by Indian standards. And the view from within the country is that most people feel its fantastic that India is spending money on doing genuine space research - this is especially true about educated people. (Remember, literacy rate in India is still not 100 %, about 25-30% of working age adults still cant read or write). The really poor people (and India has a lot of them, unfortunately) are at best indifferent to the whole topic of scientific research.

    Personally, I find these media reported contrasts between poverty and space research ludicrous and hypocritical. To say that a country should wait to emerge from the very debilitating jaws of poverty before it even earns the right to dream for the stars (quite literally so) is like telling kids in a school in the poor neighborhood of town that they don't have the right to dream for ivy league type college education unless they demonstrate first that they are no longer poor. This is illogical and goes against the very basic human quality of optimism.

    Especially in India's case, space research has always been focussed towards solving problems faced by people - thus the focus on weather, telecommunication and cartographic satellites, etc over the past decades. The fruits of such research have been emphatically obvious, for the poorest of this country too; just one case in point being India's response to Cyclone Phailin. Historically, such a weather disaster typically would result in deaths of a more than thousands of my fellow Indians and it was unbelievably painful to watch this repeat every few years. Only this time, there was Indian weather infrastructure ready with updated satellite imagery, govt. research centres were ready with their interpretation of the expected weather - aiding and helping plan some very massive evacuations. For the first time in my three decades of life in India, things came together and loss of life was in single digits, down by more than a factor of thousand. A grand achievement as much for the local administration of the cyclone affected districts, as for India's space research agencies.

    ISRO, the main space agency in India has already stated many times, that the Mars mission for them is a technology demonstrator, a sort of a training sand box, and the outcome is to get a better grasp on technologies that require interplanetary travel. This is just the next step for ISRO in moving to beyond earth orbit technological capabilities. I wish them best of luck.

Continue the discussion

64 more replies