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Mars orbiter: All said, we give best price

Rohan JoshiEarlier this week, India joined an elite club when it successfully launched Rohit Sharma’s Test career into orbit. On a side note, we also launched the Mangalyaan mission, which will see an Indian orbiter make the trek to the Red Planet, Chattisga Mars. There are many things to celebrate about the Mangalyaan mission. It is the most ambitious thing ISRO has attempted since their 1992 attempt to get Indian students to remember the word “Sriharikota” in their history textbooks.


Affordable, beautiful, durable? $72 million for Mangalyaan sounds like a lot till you consider that it’s a fraction of what NASA paid, less than what Sahara paid for the Pune Warriors, and smaller than the budget of Gravity, which only pretended to go to space

The orbiter was launched by the PSLV-25 rocket, which weighed 1,337 kg at launch. What’s incredible is that even at that weight, Mangalyaan is only carrying 15 kg worth of scientific payload. Another 852 kilos of the launch vehicle’s weight is propellant, while the other 600 kilos is an assortment of readymade thepla and MTR daal-rice premix for the 14 chai breaks along the way.

The mission’s payload includes the Mars Colour Camera for optical imaging; it will take photos of Mars, following which it will add a suitable filter, tilt-shift blur and border before making it its Facebook cover photo. Also on board is a thermal infrared imaging spectrometer, which was purchased by Bangaru Laxman from Aniruddha Bahal, and of course, there’s the Mars Enospheric Neutral Composition Analyser aka MENCA, which (scientific fact) is a society for really smart people. I got all this information from the ISRO website, which is run off a server in 1997.

This mission is a tremendous achievement though, and if it succeeds, ISRO will become only the fourth agency to launch a successful bid to Mars after NASA, the European Space Agency and the Autobots. I say “if” because the launch was just one small step for man; Mangalyaan will now spend a few weeks in Earth’s orbit before it leaves for Mars at the end of the month, because it makes sense to leave after peak hours. The journey will take 10 months, which is what happens when you take Saki Naka in spite of everyone’s advice.

I’m not just proud of the fact that we’re going to Mars; I’m proud of the fact that we’ve been so damned Indian about it. For starters, we managed to pull off the mission for just $72 million, which sounds like a lot until you consider that it’s a fraction of what NASA paid, less than what Sahara paid for the Pune Warriors, and smaller than the budget for the film Gravity, which only pretended to go to space. So for any other countries that have things to send to space, come to India, we give best price.

I also love that ISRO celebrated the launch, the ultimate triumph of science, by visiting Tirupati with a scale model of the orbiter to seek blessings. Because sometimes, the only way to survive as men of science in this country is to have a little faith.

I also love how, in true Indian fashion, the politicking has begun, with the Prime Minister’s scientific advisor suggesting that ISRO could have “done more homework” and “taken more time”. If you’re scientific advisor to the PM, perhaps the first scientific advice you should give him is “Exercise your vocal chords, because biology.”

But all of that is irrelevant, because right now, as I type, and as you read, and as you go to work over the next few weeks, look up at the sky and remember that up there in the air, it isn’t a bird, it isn’t a plane; it’s a little slice of scientific ambition, making a brave 25-crore-kilometre trek on its own through the emptiness of space with a message from mankind; we’re here, we’re stepping out into our backyard, and we always always always give you the best price.

Rohan Joshi is a writer and stand-up comedian who likes reading, films and people who do not use the SMS lingo. You can contact him on www.facebook.com/therohanjoshi 

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