The past fortnight has been one of historic firsts! India achieved what no other nation in the world had managed to in their first attempts – the Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) or 'Mangalyaan', as it was named, entered the Martian orbit in its first attempt, giving the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) a place in global space history.
The success of Mangalyaan is a huge vote of confidence to the Indian space community, considering it was an acutely complex mission. What makes this an incredible feat is also the fact that this has been the least expensive space mission to Mars in recent times. Consider the numbers: India spent just $ 74 mn as against the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration's $ 671 mn – a staggering one-ninth of what the US spent!
To put things in perspective, Mangalyaan cost a quarter less than the money spent to make the 2013 science fiction thriller, Gravity. Even Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his speech at the Madison Square Garden, New York recently, said in a light hearted manner that the per km cost to Mars was cheaper than a km worth of an auto-rickshaw ride in India.
The other most remarkable thing about Mangalyaan's success is that it was made entirely with home-grown Indian technologies. A lot of technologies were reused from ISRO's past missions. Many experts acknowledged the fact that the cheap indigenous technology came out of sheer necessity.
That, in fact, has been a mantra with the Indian industry – a manufacturing philosophy that has resulted in many successes across industries. The Indian industry has come to be known for its frugal approach to manufacturing. There are myriad examples in the automotive industry as well, be it in terms of products or processes.
The Mangalyaan mission is no mean engineering feat. The ISRO should now expect the world to queue up to not just use its expertise, but to learn prudence in engineering and innovation. In fact, it should offer tremendous boost to the entire Indian engineering community, which has strong global credentials already. This is yet another feather in India's engineering cap.
Deepangshu Dev Sarmah
New Delhi, October 2014