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Mangalyaan: Foreign media hails India, conditionally

As India successfully launched its satellite into Martian space in a feat that has been described as “a triumph of frugal engineering,” various international media outlets said the endeavour was mainly carried out in order to rival China. The BBC, The Guardian, The New York Times and The Washington Post mention that India was the first country, in the world and in Asia, to put a satellite in the Martian orbit in the first attempt. A concern that was also raised in the international media was how India could bear the costs of such a mission in the face of its poverty issues.

“The United States had its first successful Mars mission with a 1964 flyby by the spacecraft Mariner 4, returning 21 images of the surface of the planet. The former Soviet Union reached the planet in 1971, and the European Space Agency in 2003,” reports The Guardian.

Compared to the Mars missions of other countries, however, India’s cost a mere Rs 4.5 billion ($ 74m; £45m); NASA’s recent Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (Maven) mission cost $ 671m, The Guardian said. Though it’s one of the cheapest space missions, many have questioned the need for India to spend so much in the face of widespread poverty and hunger. “But India defended the Mars mission by noting its importance in providing hi-tech jobs for scientists and engineers and practical applications in solving problems on Earth,” it said. 

As India celebrates this milestone, how does the Mars Orbiter Mission serve Indian interests?
The BBC reports that unlike NASA’s Maven mission, which had robot rovers land on the planet, India’s Mangalyaan will study the Red Planet’s atmosphere from outer space. While the Curiosity Rover will attempt to understand why Mars lost its atmosphere, the Indian mission will “study the surface and mineral composition of Mars, and scan its atmosphere for methane, a chemical strongly tied to life on Earth,” The Guardian said.

BBC’s Science writer Pallava Bagla adds that India’s mission is an attempt by India to beat its rival, China. “China has beaten India in space in almost every aspect so far: it has rockets that can lift four times more weight than India’s, and in 2003, successfully launched its first human space flight which India has not yet embarked on. China launched its maiden mission to the Moon in 2007, ahead of India,” he writes. Scientists claim that the success of this mission will be a morale booster for the country.

Bagla also says that the mission has received criticism from scientists and economists.  D Raghunandan from Delhi Science Forum, a think tank says, “This is a highly suboptimal mission with limited scientific objectives,” while economist Jean Dreze said that the mission was India’s quest to chase power.

The Guardian reports that though China gives India stiff competition in the space technology market with bigger launches, India can go further but is only hampered by a slow economy and is therefore not investing enough.

Saritha Rai of Forbes says this is a turning point for India as it can market itself as a low-cost destination for sophisticated engineering. “ISRO is already launching commercial satellites for a host of Western countries at competitive costs,” she adds.

Reiterating this is The Wall Street Journal which stated that the success of the mission is “an important advertisement for a business India hopes to enter: sending satellites and spacecraft aloft at a fraction of the cost of U.S. and European competitors.”

On the political front, this will boost Narendra Modi’s achievements as Prime Minister. The New York Times reports, “Mr Modi, who was elected in May with a once-in-a-generation majority in Parliament, has been on something of a roll. And the Mars achievement, which he had almost nothing to do with, will only add to that.” Furthermore, this accomplishment occurs just before his trip to the US where he will address the United Nations. 


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