India’s launch of a small unmanned satellite to Mars is being described as a giant leap for its space programme. Science writer Pallava Bagla writes on what the mission means for India and the world.
If all goes well and the satellite orbits the Red Planet, India’s space agency will become the fourth in the world after those of the United States, Russia and Europe to undertake a successful Mars mission.
After India’s successful unmanned Chandrayaan mission to the Moon in 2008 that brought back the first clinching evidence of the presence of water there, the Mars mission, according to K Radhakrishnan, chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro), is a “natural progression”.
More than 500 scientists from the Bangalore-based Isro worked round the clock on this $73m (£45m) mission, which was announced by PM Manmohan Singh in August last year.
India sees the Mars mission as an opportunity to beat its regional rival China in reaching the planet. China has beaten India in space in almost every aspect so far. If the Mars mission succeeds, it will be a big morale booster for India.
Though India says its Mars mission is the cheapest inter-planetary mission ever to have been undertaken, some are questioning its scientific purpose. “This is a highly suboptimal mission with limited scientific objectives,” says D Raghunandan of Delhi Science Forum, a think tank. Others like economist-activist Jean Dreze have said the mission “seems to be part of the Indian elite’s delusional quest for superpower status”.
Rejecting such talk, a top government official says: “We have heard these arguments since the 1960s, about India being a poor country not needing or affording a space programme. “If we can’t dare to dream big it would leave us as hewers of wood and drawers of water! India is today too big to be just living on the fringes of high technology.”
Unmanned (adj.) /ˈʌnˈmænd/- without a pilot or crew (people). Operated by automatic or remote control.
Leap (n.) /liːp/- a jump
To undertake (v.) /ˌʌndəˈteɪk/ – to begin, to initiate, for example to undertake a project or a misión
Clinching (adj.) /ˈklɪntʃɪŋ/ – strong, decisive or conclusive
Chairman (n.) /ˈtʃɛəmən/ – a person who presides over a company’s board of directors, a committee, a debate, a department, etc
Round the clock /raʊnd ðə klɒk/ – day and night, 24 hours
Beat (v.) /biːt/ – to be the best, to overcome an opponent in a contest or battle
Booster (n.) /ˈbuːstəʳ/- something or someone that increases the power or effectiveness
Purpose (n.) /ˈpɜːpəs/ – the reason for which anything is done or created
Think tank (n.) /θɪŋk tæŋk/- problem-solving group or committee
Delusional (adj.) /dɪˈluːʒənəl/ – a mistaken or imaginary idea or belief
Quest (n.) /kwest/- a journey in the search of something. An expedition
Hewer (n.) /hjuːə/ – a person who shapes wood or stone. A craftsperson
Fringe (n.) /frɪndʒ/ – the border of something