Does the early bird always get the worm? What about space pigeons aiming for cosmic wormholes? Bad puns aside, I would like to shed light on one of the greatest stories ever recorded by mankind – the space race and why I’m proud to be on the turtle’s side.
India: The Late Bloomer
In the year 1975, amidst the celebrations following the launch of India’s first satellite, the rest of the world didn’t bat an eyelid. Launching a satellite was so 1957. The Soviets and the Americans had been moon-walking between coffee breaks by then. Of course, our nation had reasons like poor funding for space programs and the general lack of enthusiasm by the Indian population. But at the time, the global perception of ISRO (The Indian Space Research Organisation) was akin to a cat chasing a laser pointer.
But here is where it gets interesting. You would think that getting a head start and being funded by the richest economies in the world would cement your claim to the throne. Unfortunately, for the then “stellar superstars,” that didn’t work out as well.
The Journey of NASA
NASA jacked up on the success of the Apollo 11 moon landing mission, started sucking in more and more dollar bills from the Federal Reserve. As of 2016, NASA has an annual budget of a whopping $19.2 billion dollars, which is more than the budget of all other space agencies in the world combined!
Of late, NASA’s and other space organisations’ metabolisms have seen a sharp increase. Riding on the tides of almost forgotten achievements, a huge chunk of its funding is burnt away by failed endeavors of overly ambitious projects. Conceit and callousness have invisible price tags.
While all this happened, India played the role of the slow, but steady tortoise. Over time, the number of hits more than made up for its misses.
Why ISRO Has Gained More Popularity
Although there were a lot a failed missions, ISRO always found a way to get back up. Eventually, it would get a 34 successful launches in a row streak.
Then, Mangalyan happened. With that, India became the sixth country whose scientists and engineers showed sufficient smarts and funding to do this. What’s more, their achievement was not only to successfully send a satellite to Mars, but to do so on their first try. We spent only $75 million. The Americans, who entered Martian orbit just three days before the Indian Mars Orbiter Mission, with their MAVEN satellite, spent $683 million, or nine times more.
With the increasing sophistication of satellite missions and diversity of mission objectives, the technological complexities of building satellites suited to mission goals too have increased. Over the 25 satellite launches that the ISRO has carried out in the last two and a half decades, the organisation has achieved a degree of sophistication that makes it an emerging competitor in the world space business.
Indeed, some have argued that ISRO has attained such a stage in satellite building that this activity can be hived off as a separate corporate entity operating on commercial lines. It’s might as well be the time for it to focus on evolving new spacecraft platforms for the future and strategies for the new millennium. Unfortunately, this vision is not evident at least as yet, and if ISRO wishes to survive in the global space segment market, it better begin to think and act differently. As an enormous storehouse of expertise and skill, ISRO should become an important revenue earner for the country before that expertise is lost out to foreign space operators.
“Success has become a way of life for ISRO. But we never get carried away by success.” Claimed a senior scientist at the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) at India’s spaceport in Sriharikota after the successful launch of the PSLV- C3 4 mission.
Most space organisations like NASA are succumbing to more reasonable approaches by commercial organisations like SpaceX. This is why ISRO is arguably doing much better than NASA and USSR. Needless to say, it’d better take a leaf out of history. The hardest part of any organisation is actually the part that comes after that. Let’s just hope ISRO has what it takes to keep the throne warm.
ISRO, NASA, Space.. the loop can be extended to one of the most fascinating topics for humankind – space travel. Read about space travel and its progress in recent years in this article.