But scientists defended the mission, arguing that it costs only a little more than 6 cents per capita in a nation with a population of 1.2 billion, roughly the same as an aircraft, and brings pride to the country.
“There are social benefits,” including weather satellites that save lives, said Ajey Lele, a research fellow with the Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses, a think tank. Of the opposition to the mission, Lele said, “I think all these arguments are mere rhetoric.”
Indian scientists said the mission has two objectives. It will test and showcase Indian technology as India attempts its first foray beyond Earth’s orbit through some of space’s harshest conditions. And once in Mars’ orbit, it will attempt scientific experiments related to climate, geology and evidence of past water, pointing to possible signs of early life.
India also hopes a successful mission will promote the capability and affordability of its commercial satellite-launching service. So far, it has launched 35 satellites for other countries, Lele said, and is eager to do more. This mission’s $73 million price tag compares with $2.5 billion for NASA’s Mars Curiosity mission and $1.5 billion for a NASA rover planned for 2020.
“India’s making a statement, that we can do it,” Lele added.
Better missile and satellite technology also benefits India’s communication and defense industries, analysts argued, as China and India expand their influence in Asia. And, if successful, the mission will give India bragging rights over China, making it the first Asian nation to reach Mars orbit.
In 1999, Japan’s Nozomi Mars spacecraft failed. And in 2011, China’s first Mars satellite, the Yinghuo-1, was destroyed when the Russian carrier spacecraft it was on was unable to leave Earth’s orbit. India announced its program a few months after China’s bid failed, raising talk of a space race in Asia.