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Why India is comfortable with frugal space missions

The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) has achieved a remarkable feat by successfully launching and landing Chandrayaan-3 on the Moon. This historic mission was launched from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota, Andhra Pradesh. Chandrayaan-3 is the third instalment of India's Moon exploration mission. It boasts an impressive soft landing capability, making India the fourth country in the world to achieve this feat, alongside Russia, China, and the USA. Notably, a soft landing on the Moon is no small accomplishment; even advanced nations like Israel have faced multiple failures before succeeding, with the USA and Russia requiring 15 failed attempts.

What sets Chandrayaan-3 apart is its cost-effectiveness. The entire project was executed on a budget of approximately $75 million, a fraction of the budgets of blockbuster Hollywood films like "The Avengers: Endgame" and the acclaimed space epic "Interstellar." India has consistently surprised the world with its ability to achieve extraordinary results on a shoestring budget. Remarkably, Chandrayaan-3 cost less than its predecessor, Chandrayaan-2.

India achieves more with less:

This tradition of achieving more with less is not new for India. The Mars mission, known as "Mission Mangal," was another example of cost-effectiveness, with a cost of just INR 7 per kilometre for the journey to Mars—an unmatched achievement in space exploration.

This financial efficiency has been a hallmark of India's space endeavours since the early days of the Space Launch Vehicle-3 (SLV-3) mission when, under the guidance of Dr. Vikram Sarabhai, the father of ISRO, parts of a space rocket were transported on bicycles.

Much credit for these accomplishments goes to the dedicated scientists at ISRO. They have consistently gone above and beyond their duty, often taking humble incentives such as free dosa and filter coffee, as ISRO lacked the funds for substantial financial rewards. It is worth noting that ISRO scientists receive salaries one-fifth of that of their counterparts in other nations. This unique combination of dedication and modest incentives truly sets them apart.

Despite these challenges, the Indian space sector is growing at double the global average, a testament to the passion and commitment of ISRO's scientists.

Indian scientists are not driven by money; Passion is their fuel:

The question that looms large is why India, despite its increasing budget allocation for space missions, still grapples with the issue of comparatively meagre salaries for its dedicated scientists. Former ISRO chief G Madhavan hinted when he emphasized that Indian scientists are primarily driven by their passion and commitment rather than monetary incentives. However, this underscores the importance of providing these invaluable assets with financial stability even more, as comfortable lives can enhance their already fervent dedication.

Space exploration is not a waste of money:

Critics might argue that space exploration represents a financial drain, but research contradicts this perspective. Our innate human curiosity has perpetually fueled our exploration of the unknown, and space exploration is a natural extension of this curiosity. It opens doors to unparalleled discoveries, offering the potential for groundbreaking insights and untapped resources.

In a world grappling with resource depletion and a burgeoning population, the significance of space exploration cannot be overstated. As the world's fifth-largest economy, India stands at the precipice of a profound opportunity and responsibility—to invest more substantially in its space missions.

Yet, while this vision may seem distant, we must not overlook the tangible benefits of our present space endeavours. Satellites in orbit vigilantly watch over our borders, identifying potential threats and providing crucial intelligence. They warn us about impending cyclones, saving countless lives. These satellites contribute to weather prediction, facilitating disaster preparedness and resource management.

For the fiscal year 2022-23, the collective budget for the Department of Space in India stood at 13,700 Crores, a notable increase from the previous year's allocation of 12,642 Crores. However, the crux of the challenge lies not merely in budget increments but in addressing the stark disparities in scientists' salaries compared to their global peers. Furthermore, international collaboration, a vital aspect of fostering innovation, has shown a slight decline in recent years, as the STM Scientific Publishing Report reported. 

India's need for robust research and development funding remains pressing, as it is pivotal for propelling scientific progress and innovation. Despite India's stature as the fifth-largest producer of research publications worldwide, it must strive to strengthen international collaborations and combat the proliferation of predatory journals.

Additionally, the scarcity of scientists and engineers within India, especially in comparison to BRICS nations, poses a significant hurdle in harnessing cutting-edge research capabilities effectively. Recent reductions in tax incentives for firms involved in research and development may further impede available funding for scientific endeavours.

Although recent initiatives, such as the new education policy, signal a growing recognition of the importance of research and innovation, there is still a long road ahead to elevate their status to that of other fields in the country.

Conclusion:

In conclusion, India's remarkable accomplishments in space exploration, as evidenced by the successful Chandrayaan-3 mission, reflect its unwavering commitment to achieving more with less. 

While the question of relatively modest salaries for Indian scientists persists, their undying passion and dedication to their work remain undeniable. However, providing these invaluable assets with financial stability is imperative, as it can further amplify their fervent commitment.

Space exploration, often criticized as a financial drain, is, in fact, a testament to human curiosity and a gateway to groundbreaking discoveries and untapped resources. As the world faces resource scarcity and a growing population, India, as the fifth-largest economy, is responsible for investing more substantially in its space missions.

Despite present challenges, India's satellites play a pivotal role in safeguarding borders, predicting disasters, and managing resources. Nevertheless, India must address disparities in scientist salaries, enhance international collaboration, and elevate research quality to solidify its position as a pioneering force in space exploration and scientific innovation.

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