With India’s heavily publicized Mars mission slated for a Tuesday launch, many see the momentous occasion as the country’s attempt to vie for technological supremacy against the Chinese. The situation almost seems reminiscent of the uncompromising space race fought between the United States and Russia, which commenced during the mid-20th century.
However, in a time when many Indian citizens are struggling to survive, amidst overwhelming poverty and an ailing economy, the event has sparked considerable controversy.
The Mars Orbiter Mission
The Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM), also unofficially called Mangalyaan, is all set for its much-anticipated launch on Nov. 5, 2013, at 2:38 p.m. The mission was previously due for launch during late October. Alas, the date was pushed back to early November, as a result of a delay in one of the ships that was transporting radars to the South Pacific, deemed
critical to the mission’s success.
The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) has previously described their attempts as a technology demonstrator, with the primary ambition involving the design, planning and management of an interplanetary mission.
The Indian government gave the mission the go-ahead on Aug. 3, 2012, with the announcement made by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, during his annual address from a 17th-century fort complex in Delhi, called Red Fort.
The space agency started with both technological and scientific objectives. In terms of technological innovation, they aimed to manufacture and launch a Mars orbiter that was capable of withstanding Earth bound maneuvers, as well as the length of time required to reach the Red Planet – some 300 days.
Chairman of ISRO K. Radhakrishnan claims that mankind has much to learn about the universe and our solar system. He briefly ruminates over some of the opportunities of the imminent mission:
“We want to use the first opportunity to put a spacecraft and orbit it around Mars and, once it is there safely, then conduct a few meaningful experiments and energize the scientific community.”
Specifically, the scientific research goals are aimed at exploring Martian surface features, including the planet’s morphology and mineralogy, alongside its atmosphere. The orbiter encompasses a number of scientific research instruments, including a Mars color camera and a thermal infrared imaging spectrometer for investigation of the planet’s surface. Meanwhile, a mass analyzer will perform particle environment studies, while photometers and methane sensors will explore its atmosphere.
Although the mission is chiefly designed as a technology demonstrator, ISRO will use its solar-powered instruments to determine precisely how the weather systems of Mars work, and could even yield small insight into how most of the planet’s water disappeared.
The Mars Orbiter Mission probe will lift-off from the First Launch Pad in Sriharikota, Andhra Pradesh, aboard a Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) rocket. The probe will not be dispatched directly to Mars, however. Instead, ISRO plans to send it into orbit around the Earth, use its resulting momentum to perform an intricate series of manoeuvres and then slingshot the satellite into Mars orbit.
If successful, ISRO would become the fourth organization to successfully reach Mars, after the European Space Agency, the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) and NASA.
The Poverty Conundrum
Many in the country have objected to vast sums of government money being funnelled into the high-profile project, during a time when much of the country is feeling the biting affects of the global recession. With a faltering economy, and the Indian administration unable to provide its citizens with rudimentary services, many within the beleaguered population are calling into question their leadership’s motives.
A 2013 report, spearheaded by the United Nations, concluded that a third of the world’s poorest people dwell in India. According to a study, entitled The State of the Poor: Where are the Poor and Where are the Poorest?, the country remains a ticking time bomb. With the population destined to reach 1.5 billion by 2026, 20 million new jobs are required each year to prevent the country’s poverty from worsening; however, the Indian economy is not expanding fast enough to compensate for the population boom.
A poor health service, ever-increasing child malnutrition, and limited education and training services, compound unemployment and economic growth.
The Indian government’s actions has sparked international outrage from critics of America and Britain’s aid programs. With both countries providing India with yearly aid, some see the country’s latest space endeavours as an irresponsible and profligate act, merely designed to showcase the developing country’s superpower status.
Regardless of the country’s overwhelming poverty, the Indian space agency’s Mars mission remains set for a Tuesday launch.
By James Fenner