THE sum of $74 million doesn’t go as far as it used to: NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell earned that amount in just the past two years. A Los Angeles home once owned by Walt Disney recently sold for $74 million.
In India, however, $74 million is all that’s needed to send a satellite into orbit around Mars.
Determined to explore the red planet ahead of rival China — and to demonstrate its technical prowess — the world’s second-most populous country this week succeeded in delivering its Mars orbiter to the intended destination 420 million miles away.
For $74 million. NASA expects to spend nine times more on its latest (and much more complex) Mars program.
India kept the costs of its space shot low by adapting cheap, indigenous technology, limiting the payload to a modest 33 pounds and using the Earth’s gravity to slingshot its craft out of orbit instead of powering through with a larger, more expensive rocket.
Critics have questioned how India can justify spending one dime on a Mars craft when hundreds of millions of Indians live in poverty. The spectacle of another nuclear-armed country navigating craft in the solar system gives security experts pause as well.
We’re inclined to applaud the thrift, at least. There’s a lesson here for NASA, for any government agency or private enterprise that seeks to make commercial and scientific advances in space. India says its Mars expedition is intended to prove it has the technical capacity to compete for space business against Americans and Europeans. Sending a satellite aloft can be a low-budget affair.
India is making the most out of space without breaking the bank on terra firma.
CHICAGO TRIBUNE / DISTRIBUTED BY MCT INFORMATION SERVICES