Jugaad sentences to ponder

The budget of India’s Mars mission, by contrast, was just three-quarters of the $100 million that Hollywood spent on last year’s space-based hit, “Gravity.”

There is more here.

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Now that truly is remarkable.

Yes, India sorely needs assistance from the U.S. We must send them consultants from Boeing, Lockheed-Martin, etc. to advise their aerospace industry on how you squeeze money from government projects. They don't understand the concept of spreading around the subcontractors so widely that a project is unkillable. They don't even have a word in Hindi for "buy-in".

What's that about counting chickens before they hatch.......

Sure, but given the 9:1 cost reduction of the Indian attempt vs the American, they can try 8 more times before "losing."

India plans to orbit Mars, not land a rover on the surface. The U.S. ran a similar mission over 40 years ago. Shouldn't cost be weighed against marginal contribution to scientific knowledge? The Indian effort seems less about pushing the frontier of scientific knowledge than it is about demonstrating and testing space exploration capability that does not technology developed in-house. Which is fine to the extent Indian taxpayers are willing to fund it but not quite the same as what NASA is trying to do.

Just like it was for the U.S. 50 years ago, demonstrating competence in what is essentially ballistic missile technology is very important to the Indians today. Let's not discount that side benefit.

Sure but orbiting Earth does just fine as a demonstration of ballistic missile technology -- orbiting Mars is just show-boating. India has been successfully launching satellites into low earth orbit and beyond using the Indian-developed PSLV rocket since the 1990s. A quick look at Wikipedia suggests that India's PSLV is more powerful than America's old Redstone ballistic missile (a variant of which carried Alan Shepard into space).

On a lighter note, power has never been our main problem but how to get stuff to orbit rather than a quick dunk in the Indian ocean.

It's a quality control and reliability demonstration. The harder the problem you solve successfully, the better.

It's a warning to Pakistan that getting into an arms race with you is a bad idea, and to China that you aren't some third-world waste to be ignored.

Possibly one factor in US "overpaying" is that we want to avoid the national embarrassment of losing even an unmanned mission.

Rahul is right about counting chickens. A quick glance at NASA's history of Mars missions shows that the U.S. has its share of failures and that a lot of the failures happen upon failure to insert into Martian orbit. The U.S.'s last six missions to Mars were successful suggesting that the U.S. has a pretty good solution to the undoubtedly difficult problem of maneuvering a rocket and/or lander ~10 light-minutes away from Earth. Whether India has solved this engineering problem remains to be seen.

http://mars.nasa.gov/programmissions/missions/log/

It's not obvious that adding complexity (which is a big driver of the costs) is increasing reliability.

Of course which one was more profitable? Gravity grossed slightly less than $700M so that was a wise investment.

Hearing about India and China blow a bunch money on space program makes me wonder if the US is either:

1) Falling behind other countries
2) Or we figured blowing a bunch money on space program is not worth it anymore.

CR

We're still blowing a bunch of money on a space program. We just dropped the part about having worthwhile and measurable goals.

That said, it's an unfair comparison. Most of Hollywood is not that profitable. Comparisons with one blockbuster are cheery-picking.

"Cheery-picking"? A new word for optimistic forecasting ;-)

My kingdom for an edit function...

I'd separate manned versus unmanned missions. On unmanned missions, it's tough to make the case that developing countries have anything on the U.S. Manned space exploration is a difficult issue because it's what gets people excited (and hence willing to fund space programs out of their tax money) but it's also extremely expensive, dangerous and has unclear scientific value. The U.S. may have fallen behind on unmanned space exploration but is that a bad thing, especially if manned space "exploration" consists of blasting people less than 250 miles above the surface of the earth pretty much the same way we have been doing for the past 50 years.

The Indians have the same number of people involved in their Mars mission as NBC does in its coverage of the Sochi Olympics.

Space programs are vanity projects. That is they are about generating utility through the mechanism of patriotic glow, any goals actually achieved (scientific or commercial) are entirely incidental. Therefore the logical approach for any country is to have such a program but not invest very much in it. India is even more so the case as it has many millions of poor people that the money could be given to instead. It might be that the utility gain from patriotism outweighs the opportunity cost of improving the lives of some smaller number of very poor people, but I doubt it.

Good point. A large fraction of the spillover morale benefits come even by merely announcing the mission & making noises every now & then. Actually landing on Mars becomes an incidental target.

How many poor people would $75 million help, vs the number of children motivated to become a rocket scientist as a consequence of India's space program.

As I look back to my childhood in the 50s and 60s, I was captured by scifi and then motivated by the science and engineering that dominated with NASA being the embodiment of the end point. As I got older and more into the electronics toward computers, too many options hid NASA from my view, but I had peers who ended up working on NASA projects. Money was never a motivator, and never became one.

Today, the inspiration such as it is are to be like the billionaires Gates, Jobs, and invent a killer app and sell the company to become rich. No concept of the hard work to discover something new that is just a step toward a future that you imagined. Going to the moon was easy compared to building real robots, but who would have funded the high cost of transistors and ICs and then VLSI delivered in two decades if not for NASA? If it were just DOD, it would have been hidden from the public.

In the half century since JFK, which private sector company has set out to independently build manned rockets except for former kids inspired by NASA and the moon landings? Like Elon Musk who put $100 million of his own money in SpaceX, more than India spent on its Mars mission. Elon Musk took that step to put humans on Mars.

I can't think of anything conservatives say or do that inspires people, other than John Galt and his auto factory, steel mills, and railroads.

Elon Musk, by the way, makes cars that are definitely not inspired by Ayn Rand.

Do more children get motivated to become a rocket scientist as a consequence of India’s space program as opposed to just watching NASA land a mars rover?

I think there are both the scientific and morale gains from a project like this. However, the gain in morale follows quite a different trajectory than that in the scientific research.

If the Mangalyaan can not successfully orbit the Mars than it could be said that the scientific gain for India was minimal, however the same could not be said about the morale boost, even in the case of a failure at the last moment.

I am wondering how cheap US space exploration would be if the US had India level of wages.

....how bad US space exploration would be if the US had Indian quality of personnel.

The Indian space mission is purely for nurturing the ego of the nation. Otherwise why would anyone in their senses spend scarce resources on sending a contraption to Mars for doing what the US did decades ago

I'm with mulp on this one. It's much better to move forward and be curious. The argument that the money can be better spent on local problems is always made but we all know that very little of the money would be spent in this way.
We're just curious apes and we are at our best when we indulge that tendency.

BEIJING, Feb. 21 (Xinhua) -- A Beijing-based Tibetology scholar has criticized the Dalai Lama's Friday meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama in the White House, saying it was another "anti-China farce." "Once again, the Dalai Lama slipped into the White House Map Room for a so-called 'unofficial meeting' with Obama. This was another farce against China," said Lian Xiangmin, a researcher with the China Tibetology Research Center, in a signed article.

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