Mangalyan – India’s Rover to Mars
If it were a Mars chocolate bar it would have been understandable. But then it is much more than that. To be fair to Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) they had been planning to send a mission to planet Mars for long. Maybe not quite as long as the American space agency NASA had been mulling but surely even before they had successfully launched Chandrayan or the moon mission. Remember Chandrayan had been hugely successful in that it had been able to identify traces of water on the surface of the moon. Later there was a dispute to such claims but NASA scientists were rather surprised that this small spacecraft could map the surface of the moon so closely. Chandrayan however, could not sustain for long and crashed on the surface of the moon after sending some wonderful pictures and data to monitors in ISRO, Bangalore and NASA space centers.
NASA’s Curiosity Rover is sending some stunning pictures and the initial reaction is one of wonderment as the surface of Mangal or Mars looks so much like that of the Earth. We Earthlings believe that anything above and beyond our space must be weird and different. Slowly man is beginning to realize that celestial bodies may not be as different from us as we think. That is a huge step forward in understanding the Solar System and the larger Universe.
It is fashionable to run down any scientific pursuit and more particularly that related to space as an extravagance. Critics point out that such expenses running in billions of dollars do not make sense when the world is in a recession. Here in India we are told that there are millions who are living in utter poverty and such expense could well be used for the benefit of the poor. I do not for once contest that poverty alleviation should be top priority for any government, any state, but it would be foolhardy to suggest that all scientific pursuits must be put on hold till the last man has enough. A nation moves forward on all fronts simultaneously. One cannot say that a single issue can dwarf all others, howsoever important that might be. I might add that India’s poverty statistics are exaggerated by those who stand to benefit from them. Which is not to deny that there is poverty but it is also true that ‘fighting poverty’ is an industry in itself and those at the helm roam around in expensive SUV’s.
Remarkably, in India’s case as also I am sure in the case of other nations space exploration and related scientific pursuits have helped fight poverty. We can forecast weather like never before, communication has become inexpensive and that has been such a huge leap forward with millions having access to phones. Satellite mapping has helped in mineral and metal exploration. Advances is space technology has made India secure.
Critics will also point out the futility of replicating what NASA has already done. Mars is a planet bigger than Earth. Could the Rover explore the whole of Mars – certainly not. Besides Mangalyan slated sometime in 2013, may have different type of sensors, cameras and a different focus from what the Rover has. We know very little about Mars, our closest neighbor. There is a lot to explore and a lot to know. Man will need to send quite a few Rovers’ and Mangalyan’s to get familiar with this beautiful planet that shows promise of life.
India is going to send its second mission to moon – Chandrayan II. Russians have evinced interest in collaborating with India in this mission. If that is so it will mean a close cooperation between India, US and Russia, as NASA and ISRO are already collaborating on India’s moon mission. But Mars poses different challenges. Man’s curiosity is such that nothing can stop humans from exploring the space.
In today’s world a lot is driven by political compulsions too. China has sent their men and women to space. India has not, though if we were to believe ISRO chairman, India has the capability for a manned space mission. Be as it may, the race between nations is not only on Mother Earth but has transcended beyond and that includes forays into space. This is India’s message that we are very much in the race, whatever that may mean ultimately.
As I said, if it were a Mars chocolate bar it would have been a non-issue, but the stakes here are much higher. Hungry people can wait. Mangal is Tuesday, the day of Mars and is an auspicious day of Gods in Indian mythology. Maybe pacifying Mangal may bring prosperity to this nation of glaring disparities.
- India to launch Mars orbiter in 2013 (edition.cnn.com)
- India to send space mission to Mars next year (guardian.co.uk)
- India Plans for Mars Mission in 2013 (abcnews.go.com)
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