25 September 2014

From India to Mars

Photographer: Manjunath Kiran (AFP/Getty); source.  
My favorite "reality TV" is live coverage of spaceflight. And nothing in recent memory equaled the celebration that erupted in the Indian Space Research Organisation's control room when the long-awaited confirmation arrived: the Mars Orbiter Spacecraft was indeed in orbit!

BBC video of happy moment on this page.  
First photo of Mars; source.  
The celebration was very well deserved. These scientists and engineers had made an internationally unprecedented achievement: success on a Martian mission on the very first try. And the reported cost was, according to the Indian prime minister, less than the cost of making the film Gravity.

Several news stories (for example, BBC and Guardian) have reported criticism of Indian expenditures on space exploration that might supposedly have been spent on poverty alleviation. Such arguments, at least when originating outside India, make no sense to me. Actually, no country afflicted by poverty is spending enough on poverty alleviation; nearly every single so-called developed country is a scandalous failure in this area, especially when we consider the amounts siphoned off by tax breaks and subsidies to politically powerful sectors of the economy. I can't think of a single country with the moral standing to criticize India's spending less than 4c per person per day (annualized) for this project.

Among the sorts of expenditures that don't directly relate to poverty alleviation, it's hard to imagine a happier use of public funds than India's Mars Orbiter Mission. Scientists and engineers become national heroes, making their disciplines more attractive for today's children--both boys and girls. In the meantime, where do the critics think those billions of rupees are going--to Mars? Most of the money is being spent right in India, paying for raw materials, engineered products, and salaries, and will continue to circulate in the economy.

Of course, India cannot devote unlimited funds to space exploration. The Mars Orbiter Mission was accomplished with amazing frugality and ingenuity. Instead of asking why so much was spent on this project, India's critics should be admiring how little was spent. If similar ingenuity were applied to some of our U.S. government projects, maybe we would have a lot more money for poverty alleviation.

One of my favorite photos of the March for Peace held last Sunday in Moscow is the one on the right from the LiveJournal of "Drug Detei" ("Friend of Children"). The sign says, "Don't look for enemies! Look for friends!" That's a sign we Friends can get behind! And, incurable optimist that I am, I see the sign as a sort of kindred spirit to India's Mars Orbiter Mission: "Don't look for political or military advantage, look for economic advantage, scientific gain, educational advancement, environmental discoveries ... even signs of life on other planets!"

A few weeks ago, I mentioned the central place of intercessory prayer in my experience of silent worship. So I was glad to see this post from Hye Sung Francis: "Held in the Light." (Thanks to quakerquaker.org for the reference.)

Biblical inerrancy, the start of a conversation on Internet Monk.

Jim Forest: "O Heavenly King: reflections on purity of heart." "If you want an example of a very different way of relating to Muslims, consider Saint Catherine’s monastery in the Sinai Desert."

More photos from Moscow's March for Peace last Sunday. ... And Anna Arutunyan's mixed feelings about the march.

Deja vu all over again: "The Language of Force" and "Back to the Future in Iraq."

Nancy Thomas on "The benefits of being invisible."

Samantha Fish and Dani Wild ...

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