One Giant Leap for One Giant Nation
Space is pretty cool. Many people can recall dreams of being an astronaut when they were growing up—exploring distant planets and wearing a funny suit with a fishbowl for a hat. As they got older, most lost the desire due to the impracticability of such aspirations. Work, bills, family, and life in general took the front seat. Looking up at the sky at night, I think we all wonder about the rest of the universe from time to time. What’s going on out there?
The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) is attempting to answer at least a little part of that expansive question. The group is currently making the final preparations to send a spacecraft to orbit one of Earth’s neighbors—Mars. The primary goal of the endeavor is to analyze India’s space technology and see if the program is capable of missions to other planets.
The spacecraft is also tasked with gathering information about the atmosphere and surface of the planet. They are largely focused on searching for the existence of methane—a chemical that could indicate life of some sort. In addition, the project will examine surface features and the mineral composition of the planet.
The spacecraft was going to be launched as earlier as a few days ago, but weather conditions have pushed the date back to early-to-mid November. Should the mission become successful, ISRO will take the fourth spot on the list of space agencies that have successfully sent spacecraft to the red planet. This victory is sure to boost national pride—especially in comparison China’s failed Mars spacecraft project in 2011.
However, this project has been the cause of some concern for some people. India has recently been struggling to stabilize its economy, so much so that the government is planning to dig for a hidden pile of gold about which a Hindu village sage dreamt. Indian officials believe that this focus on exploration will have visible benefits to the economy. “Investing in new technology, including space technology is an important part of the aspirations for an economy such as India. Developing a sophisticated technological base in a country with this level of poverty is not a simplistic contradiction,” says Sandeep Chachra, executive director of Action Aid, a charity that focuses on eliminating poverty. “What is important is to harness the advances that science and technology bring for the greater good and to use those advances to overcome ingrained poverty and build hope for future generations.”
ISRO is not alone in its mission to Mars. NASA is also planning to launch its Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft on November 18th. Instead of searching for methane, MAVEN will attempt to help scientists determine the history of Mars—mainly how it lost its atmosphere.
Though it may not be the purpose of ISRO’s program, there is an important idea that can be taken from it. The Earth is rather tiny in the vast canvas of the universe. Maybe looking out into the infinite unknown will help us to realize how insignificant are our problems. You got a parking ticket, because the line at Starbucks was longer than usual today? That’s definitely important, but scientists believe that Saturn and Jupiter might literally be raining diamonds. You accidentally bought the same song twice on iTunes? That certainly is an important event in the cosmos, but scientists recently captured the aftershock of an immense supernova—literally the death of a star. This doesn’t mean that our actions on this planet are by any means inconsequential, but perhaps we should take a step back every now and then and determine if a situation is really as significant as we might think. A new perspective can go a long way to changing how we view the world, the universe, and ourselves.
What do you think about India’s spacecraft launch? Could this possibly have positive benefits for the economy, or should the government focus its resources on directly solving the poverty crisis? Additionally, how do you feel about the universe and our place in it? Let us know what you think in the comment section below.