…3, 2, 1… Blast off!

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Mangalyaan india rocket

LAUNCH: The Mangalyaan rocket blasted off earlier this week

An Indian rocket blasted off on a mission to Mars earlier this week as the South Asian country aims to tap into the $450 billion industry.

Despite a host of criticisms, mostly circling around the fact that more than 95 per cent of the country live on less than $5 (£3.11) a day, the ‘budget rocket’ was launched on Tuesday 5th November.

Much smaller than a US or Russian vessel, the Mangalyaan, which translates to ‘Mars craft’ weighs approximately 1,350kg, about the size of a small car, and is being carried by a 350-tonne rocket.

At a cost of just under $75million (£45m) the rocket will hopefully reach the Red Planet in September 2014, whereby it will signal the first Asian probe to land on the fourth planet from the sun, following in the footsteps of Russia, the US and Europe.

Many critics of the project have slammed the launch, saying the money should be spent on tackling the nationwide issues in the poverty-ridden nation, yet it must be remembered that higher amounts of money have been, some would say, ‘wasted’ elsewhere.

For example, the nation currently has plans to build the world’s largest statue, in the state of Gujarat, which will cost a massive £200million. In a nation renowned for its poverty levels and power shortages; priorities, at first glance, certainly seem to have gone out of the window.

One reason for this could be the fact that the country is in a constant battle to establish itself as one of the world’s leading powers. Since being labeled as one of the four projected fastest growing economies in the world, outside of the G7, the country has had new expectations thrust upon its shoulders.

By reaching Mars before the likes of ‘continental rivals’ China, many may see the feat as a huge step forward yet others consider the target as a ‘pointless mission’ lacking research goals.

“This is a highly suboptimal mission with limited scientific objectives”, explained D Raghunandan of Delhi Science Forum, whilst economist-activist Jean Dreze added that the mission “seems to be part of the Indian elite's delusional quest for superpower status.”

$75million is a large figure for a country where more than one billion people are battling hunger and poverty yet it only represents 10 per cent of the country’s space budget. Compare this to NASA’s yearly budget, more than 20 times that of India’s at $16.6billion, and it may not seem so large. When the US began their rocket construction in 1962, President John F Kennedy declared to Americans that “we choose to go to the moon”. However, at that time 21 per cent of the nation were living in poverty.

Contrary to beliefs, the rocket launch is only a small percentage of the country’s overall budget and has not led to the more deprived areas being sacrificed as a result.

Earlier this year, India signed the National Food Security Bill which will attempt to tackle the hunger problems which plague the country. At a cost of $20billion, the program is significantly more expensive than the rocket launch and is a clear sign of intent that action is being taken at both sides of the economic spectrum.

The rocket project is still undoubtedly a huge investment in science, technology and education yet it is one which could propel the country into the forefront of space travel. With Private Spaceflight expected take off in a massive way over the next few decades, a successful mission by the Mangalyaan could set up the South Asian country for a prosperous future which would filter through the whole country.


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