It is likely that many emerging economies will go to the stars following India’s Mars Orbiter Mission as space projects are a good status symbol and help countries gain credibility, Eric Berger, Houston Chronicle science writer, told RT.
India has managed to successfully launch a spacecraft which is the country’s first mission to study Mars. Its Mars Orbiter or Mangalyaan completed a 10-month journey and entered the red planet’s orbit this September. The initial aim of the project is to test technology for the future development of the Indian space industry. If the mission is successful the country might join an elite club of nations such as Russia and the US.
RT: India has become the first nation to reach the orbit of Mars in its maiden attempt. And at a small price – $74m, making it “the cheapest interplanetary mission ever to be undertaken by the world.” How do you explain the success?
Eric Berger: I think, you can explain the success partially by some great engineering done by the Indian space program. Also, the country obviously has lower labor cost than a lot of the more developed world including the United States and Russia. So they took advantage of that as well in terms of finding a good price which to deliver their space craft to Mars.
RT: The mission raised a lot of criticism in the West, with some media calling the endeavor a “delusional dream” and a “fantasy.” Do you think space exploration should only be reserved for the rich West?
EB: Absolutely not. I think it’s great that countries like India and China as well are making great progress in space. What we are seeing as exploration is going further in space, to Mars and certainly beyond, and when we start to put humans on rockets the cost of space goes up. If humanity is to go forward to the places like Mars it is going to be an international effort –you’re going to need the help of countries not only like the US and Russia -which have long space programs – but contribution in terms of technology and finances from countries like China and India.
RT: How does space exploration benefit India? Why does sending a probe to Mars benefit India do you think?
EB: I think each country needs to make its own decision on how it is going to spend its budget. But I think one basic function of a government ought to be exploration, or reaching for things that a government can do that are greater than in any individual person can do. “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts” is a common saying here in America. And I think what that really means is that the government ought to be out there trying to do interesting things that will inspire people. Look back at the Russian space program and the American space program with the Apollo moon landings. That inspired a generation to go into science and mathematics in this country. You can have the same effect in India to really sort of inspire its younger people to get more interested in science and technology. So while the mission did have some costs there are definitely benefits to society in terms of the government trying to do great things.
RT: Can we hope to see other emerging economies take to the stars in the near future?
EB: I think you will see other countries try to go into space. The simple reason is one of the ways to gain credibility on the international stage is to have a space program and to be seen doing great things like putting a spacecraft into orbit around Mars. It brings a lot of national pride, a lot of national prestige and it is a one way a country with perhaps a bit lower profile on the international scene can have a larger profile and become more visible and be seen as more successful. It certainly is a good status symbol.