Tuesday 5th November saw India launch its first spaceship to Mars. This is what some Indians on the streets of Calcutta thought;
“Good thing. Why not?”
“What if it is a failure?”
“I do not feel proud. The money should be spent on the people.”
“India is making a name for itself.”
William Dalrymple, the author and historian, tweeted, “Is Mars really the most pressing priority and the best use of $72 million? Better than spending it on arms I suppose. Half the population has no toilet, and India has 1/3 of the world’s poor. Seems bizarre.”
Dalrymple goes on to say that India is falling behind even its impoverished neighbours in basic things like sanitation, infrastructure and health care; It is behind sub-Saharan Africa in its immunisation of babies, and ½ of India’s rural children are stunted through lack of nutrients. Back at the other end of the scale, India also spends large sums on prestigious universities and having a large army.
Sir Mark Tulley, who was chief of the BBC Bureau in Delhi for 21 years, thinks this negative view on India’s ‘spending is wrong, however. He says that industrial development was held back under the British, and India needs to keep up with the world. For him, money is not so much the problem as bad administration. If India is to go forward, it needs to invest in science, economists and teachers, and it should also be remembered that the space programme generates business. India has the capacity to launch satellites for other countries, and that is worth $2billion.
Space spin-offs continue, and have resulted in freeze-dried food, ultrasound, CAT scanners, scratch-resistant lenses, fire-retardant materials, space blankets, and digital cameras to name but a few. All benefit the global community.
Innovation, scientific discovery, and technological breakthroughs serve as major engines for promoting economic growth and global competitiveness, leading to an improved quality of life. Space exploration plays its part in this.
Quality of life today is perhaps synonymous with having more possessions, such as the latest android tablet or whatever; We are, to put it another way, consuming more stuff. In which case, isn’t this a question that is more about finding and funding a way of life that makes sense and is sustainable, and which creates some contentment where everyone has a home, enough to eat, proper health care, a good education and a job?
Could you justify $72 million to go to Mars if you were standing on a street in Calcutta next to a small, dirty, undernourished child with no shoes, begging for money?
Andrew Bateson is 57 years old and initially trained as a Geologist. He has been a secondary school teacher for 22 years teaching Chemistry and Science to 11 to 18 year olds. Previously he worked in the Ceramic industry in research and development and then management. He has experience of both the independent and state sectors, teaching in single sex and mixed sex schools. As a Union Rep., he followed educational policy closely throughout his teaching career. He has retired from teaching to continue working with OOL and to retrain as a Psychotherapist.