September 24, 2014. This date is certain to go down in the annals of Indian history; it shall be remembered and recalled for decades to come. The date stands for India’s scientific and technological genius, for innovation on a shoestring. This morning India’s maiden mission to Mars – nicknamed MOM (Mars Orbiter Mission) – marked a resounding success as Mangalyaan, the orbiter culminated its 300-day journey to the Red Planet, by arriving in the Martian orbit. It will now spend the next six months collecting information about the Mars environment and performing a number of experiments.
This morning even as MOM’s success resounded across the world, the scientists at the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) center in Bangalore broke out into a grand cheer. “History has been created today. We have dared, to reach out, into the unknown” said Prime Minister Modi in his congratulatory message to the country.
Grandest achievement for India till date
The mission is a grand achievement in many ways. There have been 51 missions to the planet Mars since 1960. Mars missions across the globe have recorded a failure rate of about 58% and the world was apprehensive of India’s first inter-planetary venture. MOM is also “the cheapest inter-planetary mission ever to be undertaken by the world” (in the words of ISRO Chairman, Mr. Radhakrishnan). Costing a mere USD 4.5 billion (INR 74 million), the indigenous satellite has claimed for India a position among the four agencies of the world that have sent successful missions to Mars. Mangalyaan’s success is timed to perfection coming right ahead of Indian Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi’s visit to the US.
India has now become the first Asian country to achieve such a success. It is also the first nation to have reached Mars on its maiden mission, using an indigenously built probe. Both the US and Russia failed their earliest Mars attempts, though they did achieve success eventually. Japan and China have both remained unsuccessful in their Mars missions.
Rewards – none as yet?
Despite such a distinguished success, the government of India is yet to declare its appreciation of the scientists involved in the MOM at ISRO. The Prime Minister was quick in noting, “When our cricket team wins a tournament and returns, the entire country rejoices, this is an achievement greater by a 1,000 times”. The much awaited announcement of a reward to the team that worked on MOM, however, failed to come.
In 2011, when the Indian cricket team bagged the World Cup, the ICC announced a cash reward of INR 10 million for each of the players. In addition to this, the then Chief Minister of Delhi handed the captain a cash reward of INR 20 million and lesser sums to four players. Winning players and families are now accorded free travel in 1st class AC cabins on Indian Railways. The Indian Army accorded the captain an honorary officer’s rank and various state governments showered the team with riches. All such supplications have been conspicuously missing in the case of the ISRO MOM team.
ISRO – the achiever deserves much better
A team of 14 scientists from the ISRO are believed to be the brains behind the MOM. Apart from Mr. K Radhakrishnan, the ISRO Chairman and Mr. M Annadurai, the Programme Director of Mars Orbiter Mission, 12 other scientists were closely involved in the development and implementation of the mission. The state government of Karnataka which was quite diligent in announcing a INR 1 crore reward to the first sportsperson from the state to bag a gold at the Olympic Games has sadly been silent with regard to any incentive for these scientists.
The team of ISRO scientists working on the MOM took a mere 15-month time period from inception to launch. This included the time taken for designing, testing, and construction of the satellite. The team is believed to have spent almost every waking hour designing and putting together the mission. The success of the mission is due in great measure to the perseverance and precision of this team. The success of the mission could also make India the new low-cost engineering destination of the world. And yet the architects of this new India remain to be rewarded adequately for their efforts. In a country that regularly lauds its glitterati, where actors and politicians record the highest incomes, scientists and academicians are often denied their rewards and recognition.
According to the ISRO, MOM is a “technology demonstrator”. The mission showcases India’s high-tech capabilities to the world; it demonstrates that India has now outgrown its image of being a backward land of snake charmers and mahouts. The mission also comes as a declaration of India’s perseverance against any form of financial sanctions or economic setbacks. Given the lofty ideals on which it operates, does this organization not deserve better recognition, appreciation, and tangible rewards with breakthroughs such as this? It is time for India to start looking beyond glitz and glamour and start appreciating its true wealth – its achievers.
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