By: G. Dutra
Following the end of the Cold War, many around the world expected the exploration of space to cool off, with the Russian and American governments no longer partaking in a costly and largely futile ‘space race.’ However, it became quickly apparent that the opposite was true. The vacuum opened by the economic failures of the Russian Roscosmos and American NASA led private companies such as Space X and Virgin Galactic to begin ventures in space. Alongside private enterprises, the EU, Chinese and Indian governments thoroughly increased funding for their space agencies.
The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) was founded in August of 1969 with the express goal of developing space technology and the capability to perform tasks related to space-based exploration. Although the breakthroughs of the ISRO were in no doubt fuelled by an Indian desire to further its nuclear arms delivery systems, the agency was also involved in the development of technology for civilian use, launching communications satellites. However, it was in 2008 that the capabilities of the ISRO were truly put on display to the world, with the ‘Chandrayann-1’ mission successfully launching a lunar probe.
Since 2008, the agency has continued to grow at full speed. In August of 2023, the agency’s lunar walker ‘Chandrayann-3’ landed on the moon’s south pole: a gargantuan achievement for any space agency. The lunar walker wasn’t, however, able to brave the tough conditions on the lunar south pole which sees temperatures between -200 and -250 degrees Celsius. After two weeks on the moon, the Chandrayann-3’s communication systems failed.
Although the ISRO lost contact with the Chandrayann-3, the mission’s optics were wonderful for the agency. It demonstrated its competency in conducting lunar missions and the advances it has conducted since its creation roughly 53 years ago. Today, the ISRO plans to conduct a joint mission with NASA through the construction of radar technology and more. The agency has also been conducting tests on the ‘Gaganyaan,’ a capsule which is set to inaugurate the first manned mission in the ISRO’s history, with development expected to be completed and a mission set to be launched by next year.
The image painted by the agency’s successes is undeniably a positive one, however, the ISRO’s missions do not go without criticism. India has a rapidly growing population and as of today, 78,000,000 people live in slums. It is a number comparable to that of Germany’s population, and thus both domestic and international observers have questioned the morality of such an agency when so many millions of Indians live in abject poverty. As the country’s population continues to rapidly grow, surpassing China as the most populous country on Earth in April of this year, is it right for Mahindra Modi’s government to spend 1.6 billion USD a year on the ISRO?
Poverty has always been an issue of massive proportions in India, and as an ever-increasing number of resources get sunk into the ISRO, the agency faces an existential crisis. Can it successfully argue that space exploration is a financially worthwhile venture for a population where over 200 million people go without access to basic plumbing?