After Mars, India space chief aims for the moon

Published: November 11, 2014
Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) chairman K. Radhakrishnan speaks during an interview with an AFP reporter in New Delhi on November 11, 2014. PHOTO: AFP

Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) chairman K. Radhakrishnan speaks during an interview with an AFP reporter in New Delhi on November 11, 2014. PHOTO: AFP

NEW DELHI: India now has its sights set on low-budget missions to the moon and the sun after becoming the first country in Asia to reach Mars, the head of its space agency said Tuesday.

India has been swelling with pride since winning the continent’s race to Mars in September when its unnamed Mangalyaan spacecraft slipped into the Red Planet’s orbit after a 10-month journey on a shoestring budget.

The mission, designed to search for evidence of life on Mars, sparked mass celebrations which were especially sweet as India also became the only country to reach the planet on its first attempt.

Buoyed by the success, Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) chairman K S Radhakrishnan said the agency was forging ahead with plans to land an unnamed craft on the moon, along with a satellite to study the sun.

“The aim is three years from now, an Indian lander and Indian rover will land on the moon,” he told AFP.

“We have a programme to study the sun that is by putting a satellite into the sun-Earth Lagrangian point,” he said, referring to the position where the satellite, held by the pair’s gravitational pull, can orbit with them.

China completed its first return mission to the moon last month with the successful re-entry and landing of an unmanned probe, but Radhakrishnan played down talk of a space-age rivalry between the world’s two most populous countries.

“We don’t race with any country. We have our own priorities,” he added.

But Radhakrishnan did acknowledge India was “certainly” eyeing a greater slice of the $300-billion global space market, by making and launching communication, weather, navigational and other satellites for foreign countries.

The Mars mission highlighted India’s launch vehicle, called the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV), which has long been in “high demand” from countries needing their satellites blasted into orbit.

“We have launched 40 satellites for other countries, 19 countries have used the PSLV,” Radhakrishnan said.

ISRO this year successfully tested a second vehicle, called the Geostationary Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV), capable of launching heavier satellites that countries are clamouring to have fired into space.

“At the moment there are no contracts (for the GSLV) but discussions are going on,” he said in an interview in New Delhi.

India ranks among the top six space-faring nations in technological capabilities — after the US, Russia, the European Space Agency, Japan and China, the chairman said.

But ISRO manages to compete with the big boys on a tiny budget, with the Mars mission costing just $74 million.

“If you look at the expenditure, we use 7.5% of what (the US space agency) NASA spends on space research,” the chairman said.

ISRO has helped keep costs down in part by using a myriad of Indian companies to help build its space programme, with nearly 122 local firms assisting on the Mars mission.

India has come a long way since it began its space programme half a century ago when it set up the first rocket launch pad in a field in the southern state of Kerala. A church in a fishing village was the agency’s main office.

The chairman said the agency was reaping the benefits of years of hard work, after sticking to its “mantra of self reliance” rather than relying on other countries for assistance.

Western sanctions were slapped on India after it staged a nuclear weapons test in 1974.

ISRO also remained committed to its national mandate of benefitting the “common man” – for example by launching Indian satellites that help with weather projections and disaster management – in a country with tens of millions of poor.

“Twenty-two years we worked on it (a launch vehicle for satellites and other craft) and we got it. We adapted and we improved,” he told a group of defence experts on Tuesday.

“It was not a soft route, it was the hard route.”

Facebook Conversations

Reader Comments (32)

  • Sneha
    Nov 11, 2014 - 9:46PM

    What’s new in it? These plans where already in pipeline and people were/are on it. Only thing is certain countries are taking note of it now.
    India already had Chandrayaan(moon mission) mission before Mangalyaan and discovered the presence of water there.
    This will be secnd moon related mission.


  • Hamid
    Nov 11, 2014 - 10:11PM

    Everyone has one lifetime to fulfill his ambitions and desires. A country should be able to fulfill the dreams of a youth generation. A country should be able to fulfill the needs of not only poor, but the middle class and higher-middle class youth. Otherwise they will leave the country and move to US, UK or some Gulf country, where they can find opportunities(like singers and actors migrating to India for better opportunities). ISRO may be doing right thing to retain scientific talent within the country and provide the enough challenge to keep them motivated. 19 countries have outsourced the satellite launch to ISRO, a great commercial achievement as it will create more jobs to the youth of the country in the Scientific sector.


  • Rehman
    Nov 11, 2014 - 10:21PM

    What about 60% of poor Indian people? Any Indian politician has plan to bring them up ? Modi and his Cabinet is more interested in weapons and etc. Today, India has largest number of poor people, even many times more than Africa. No offense but its reality.


  • Sandeep
    Nov 11, 2014 - 11:41PM

    God Willing, We will win over poverty as well.


  • cautious
    Nov 11, 2014 - 11:44PM

    Space exploration is great … but the USA landed on the moon back in 1969 so I doubt the scientific benefits of sending rockets to orbit/land on the moon are going to bring much insight. Maybe you should spend the money on education, health care, clean water and toilets – the basics that may actually remove the 3rd World status associated with India.


  • TiffinBox
    Nov 12, 2014 - 12:02AM

    @Rehman, do you understand that there is a space market worth 450 billion dollar out there today?. You do not get a job until you prove your worth. ISRO is on the right path until it decides to do everything for free or at a loss. India has largest number of poor people for many reasons but ISRO isn’t one of them and off late hasn’t the poverty rate gone down too?. No offense but please stop worrying about India, India will do fine.


  • Prashant Kohale
    Nov 12, 2014 - 12:19AM

    @cautious: I don’t know whether they teach you anything in pakistan about economic benefit related with such space programs. Yes you are right that India must spend on education, health care, clean water and toilets and that is what India is doing. This all space mission are going to help India earn more than investment by launching satellite of others country.
    even in America you will find many homeless people, beggars, unemployed youth, drugs problem and all other kind of problem which your country also faced but that doesn’t stopped them from space mission and doing progress in the field of science and technology. so stop crying and start acting, what your country doing?


  • Animal Farm
    Nov 12, 2014 - 1:10AM

    Here comes the ‘rational’ Pakistanis who are suddenly so much ‘concerned’ about the poverty and lack of toilets in India….


  • Sid
    Nov 12, 2014 - 2:56AM

    Can you share any link or report to support your “reality”. Or your wishful thinking is now your reality ?


  • Sid
    Nov 12, 2014 - 2:59AM

    Update your knowledge, India is no longer a 3rd world country. Also space missions is to prove the technology so others can outsource satellite launching to India.


  • Shock and Horror
    Nov 12, 2014 - 4:16AM

    I suppose a moon mission falls into insignificance when compared to the sacred mission to invent a water driven car, especially since the latter has been commended by the great A.Q.Khan. We are eagerly awaiting the successful outcome of the water driven car project!


  • Gunga Din
    Nov 12, 2014 - 5:08AM


    One must realize that India will, by definition, always be part of the “Third” world, the post-colonial independent states, created after WWII, even if it, like Singapore and Nauru, were to have advanced infrastructure and no poverty, respectively. The aim of India is to be technologically self-reliant in the space age, and to compete on equal footing with the industrial nations, while lifting the living standards of most of its citizens. The “experiments” in the space domain provide the technological breakthroughs for wider industrial applications, such as cryogenics, metallurgy, miniaturization and precision tooling. The poverty in India will not be eased by rerouting a few million dollars, if there is no wider economic boom. But commercial gains from space technology and job/wealth creation from overall industrial development is the only way to lift the living standards. That being said, it is understandable that Pakistanis find the chasm between India and Pakistan in the scientific arena hard to bear, given the years of demand for parity, and must compulsively point out the socio-economic indicators to downplay such technological leaps on India’s part. One can only hope Pakistanis of all social strata will introspect deeply as to what went wrong in the past 67 years ( post independence and partition of the Indian subcontinent) and why essentially people of the same genetic stock ( Indians and Pakistanis ) have so widely different levels of scientific and technological development. It might help both India and Pakistan in the long run.


  • wb
    Nov 12, 2014 - 6:55AM

    We Indians need to learn to put things into perspective.

    Our space missions so far have been engineering missions and not scientific missions.

    Even the component that discovered water on moon was a Nasa developed component.

    Mangalyan, for those who don’t know has reached one of the furthest orbits of Mars.

    Perhaps in the future we might get to do things of scientific importance rather than just reassuring ourselves of our engineering capability.


  • Hamid
    Nov 12, 2014 - 9:01AM

    It is much better to spend on scientific missions than to spend 6 Crores($1 million) per day in Siachin by Indian government, leave alone defense spending in other parts of the country. This will help small scale manufacturing industries which create nuts and bolts to the bigger industries which creates advanced heat shield. Such missions bring in wealth to the country as business opportunities and jobs as described in this article, 19 countries have taken launch service from India with a large pipeline of launches to the future. Money spent on such missions does not go to the space but spent on education, research and manufacturing within the country as salaries and contracts(only rocket goes up). So money is invested not expenditure is done. Paying a poor does not have long term effect, where as investments creates ripple effect on the economy.


  • Raj - USA
    Nov 12, 2014 - 9:09AM

    India sent an expedition years ago to South Pole. India has a camp there. The reason was that South Pole does not belong to any country and the countries that establish a presence there shall have a claim for the region, if at any time in the future it comes to sharing the region.

    Similarly, Moon belongs to everyone and no country can have a claim. However, it is possible that in the future countries that establish a presence there may have some preference or have exclusive rights to some areas. This is the reason countries that explore Moon drop their flags there ……. sort of a statement that this area of Moon is our territory. Countries have to plan for the future, not just take care of the present.


  • Nov 12, 2014 - 9:40AM

    Some of them mentioning poverty of India. What is there question? Will India have to stop all space or research program or our scientist have to sit until solve the poverty problem?
    Poverty already on declining trend.2000 it was 43% and 2010 its reached to 33%.We know how to reduce our poverty. That is why India is maintaining our growth rate. If we can maintain our growth rate poverty will be eradicate.


  • farid
    Nov 12, 2014 - 10:15AM

    @Rahman Sour grapes?


  • Aslam
    Nov 12, 2014 - 10:27AM

    @Rehman: yes we have more poor peoples, because we are 130crore people you are only 16 to 17crore people,but we are not beggars like you.


  • sharabi
    Nov 12, 2014 - 10:35AM

    One of my school time friend(belongs from very poor family) works on ISRO Liquid Propulsion Systems Center (LPSC) Bangalore (Electronics & Communication), He have 5 members in his family which depends upon him.
    BTW did you know ISRO earns more than it spend on R&D?


  • DoobeSanam
    Nov 12, 2014 - 11:15AM


    I gather from your logic that Pakistan’s absence from the space race must’ve been a conscious decision so that money is not wasted on these trivial pursuits and spent on the welfare of Pakistan’s citizens instead. So I guess Pakistan has conquered poverty and achieved sanitational perfection.

    It hasn’t, you say?

    Then what’s your point, mate?


  • Nov 12, 2014 - 11:22AM

    @Rehman: Criticism for criticism sake is not good. Please note it is also a commercial venture and all the money earned for launching satellites for foreign countries is spent for development and uplift of poor you are talking about.


  • harkol
    Nov 12, 2014 - 11:26AM


    What about poor people? Just because you have poor have you stopped arming the military or opening 5 star hotels?

    And where did you get 60% figure? World Bank figures show that it was 46% in 1995 and 29% in 2010, 22% in 2012! UNDP figures for 2010 reflect approximately the same numbers!!


  • Moiz Omar
    Nov 12, 2014 - 11:36PM

    Besides for the benefit of the increase of knowledge about the Universe, this will help bring economic growth and investment in India. The aerospace industry is growing very quickly. Even if the Indians are our traditional foes, there is nothing wrong in appreciating them if they do something great.


  • Focus
    Nov 13, 2014 - 12:06AM

    @Rehman: Poor people have to find their way out of poverty. If you provide shelter and food for them, they will never try to come out of it and will love to be poor…..


  • Raju
    Nov 13, 2014 - 1:55AM

    Unlike Pakistan, India treats its scientists and engineers with respect and dignity. This is why Pakistan has lost to india in science and technology.Recommend

  • Prad
    Nov 13, 2014 - 3:26AM

    Am proud an Asian nation has reached Mars and has great future plans.. At about 6 US cents per Indian person, the return in inspiring children,sponsoring science, raising the profile of the nation and the feel good factor, worth every cent.

    Pakistans cricket Board makes a loss, but the inspiration of their wins, is priceless.

    An F16’s fighter aircraft, that PAF fly , sticker price is $165 million.

    Imagine what Pakistan could achieve, if it wasn’t fighting terroists within, and battles with Iran, Afghanistan and India.

    Our lives on this planet are short, let’s make the most of them and stop pointless diversion of resources.


  • Aschraful Makhlooq
    Nov 13, 2014 - 10:43AM

    India is trying to reach the moon and unfortunately we are still unable to control political,corruption and energy crises within Pakistan and still accusing each others of creating the current crises in Pakistan…..


  • Aschraful Makhlooq
    Nov 13, 2014 - 10:44AM

    India is trying its best and utmost to reach the moon in the next phase after reaching Mars and unfortunately we are still unable to control political,corruption and energy crises within Pakistan and still accusing each others of creating the current crises in Pakistan…..


  • Sherpaon
    Nov 13, 2014 - 2:18PM


    ” Modi and his Cabinet is more interested in weapons ” India is being forced to carry out rapid weaponization. and increase its armed forces. If it is not done Pakistan will try to snatch Kashmir and china will also try to encroach .


  • Xyz
    Nov 13, 2014 - 11:20PM

    What makes you think government is not mobilising efforts towards helping the poor, improving infrastructure, health and education? What makes you think these and space missions are mutually exclusive.
    Is it better to just distribute alms to the poor or is it better to build areas of long term revenue generation which will help bring in money, grow talent, increase scientific prowess etc, and create more avenues for people to become self sufficient.


  • Yo2Da2
    Nov 13, 2014 - 11:33PM

    @cautious: Everest was conquered in 1953 by Sir Edmund Hillary of New Zealand and Mr. Tenzing Norgay a native Nepalese. Why do climbers still aspire to climb Mount Everest? New insights come with every climb in addition to other benefits.


  • Hamid
    Nov 14, 2014 - 8:34AM

    @Cautious Why students to practicals in college? Why they have dissect frogs in college? Why we cannot give Heart operations to a fresher just out of college? Why we cannot learn how to swim by reading a book? The same reason. Even though US has landed man on the Moon, practical experience and knowledge cannot substitute what is written in a textbook. Every country has to go through practical hands-on experience to gain the knowledge and expertise. Practical knowledge is never replacement for the bookish knowledge. Man has been exploring moon for more than 50 years, but it took India’s Chandrayaan to provide proof that water exists on Moon. What if India had not contributed to the humanity, we would have to be dependent on some future(?) spacecraft to find-out. Pushing all further discoveries to the future.

    @ Sneha, there is a difference between the this mission and previous mission. Previous mission was orbiter mission and an impactor mission. Next mission according to article will have lander and rover. So scientific experiments will be conducted by the lander over the moon and data will be sent to the earth through the orbiter. Yes, I agree the plans are already announced, pending a development of a powerful rocket(first development flight of rocket is scheduled within next month, which can carry 4 ton to GTO).


More in World