Could India Beat China To Mars?
A pending launch has supporters excited about a possible Asian space race and opponents concerned about more pressing needs here on Earth.
What's the Latest Development?
The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) could become the fourth national space agency -- after the US', the European Union's, and Russia's -- to successfully send a probe to Mars. Scheduled to launch in the next few weeks, the unmanned Mangalyaan orbiter will collect data about the planet's surface and atmosphere. Its mission was fast-tracked by the Indian government after China's 2011 attempt to send a craft was aborted due to technical issues. New Delhi television science editor Pallava Bagla says, "If India does beat China to Mars you can imagine the national pride."
What's the Big Idea?
India's space program has been in existence for over 30 years. Unlike China's considerably more advanced program, most of the ISRO's focus has been on developing technologies to help address poverty. However, starting in 2008, it made a "hard-headed" shift towards exploration, spending £55 million (US$88.8 million) to send a probe to the moon. The Mangalyaan mission will cost another £60 million (US$96.9 million), money that Bagla says "can't bring the 400 million [Indians] out of poverty." Action Aid in India executive director Sandeep Chachra agrees: "Investing in new technology, including space technology is an important part of the aspirations for an economy such as India. What is important is to...use those advances to overcome ingrained poverty and build hope for future generations."
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