The launch of India’s second moon mission Chandrayaan 2, which will map the south pole of the moon, has made it clear that India is a major player when it comes to frugal and cost-effective space exploration missions. With a mission cost less than major Hollywood movies for its last three launches, ISRO is showing how not to let cost restraints restrict the endeavors one can undertake.

But why is it so that ISRO can manage to send satellites to Mars and rovers to the Moon on such a low-cost budget?

The Founding Ideology of ISRO

The first thing one should keep in mind is the ideology and mindset or goal with which ISRO was formed. Vikram Sarabhai, the father of Indian space program, had said “To us, there is no ambiguity of purpose. We do not have the fantasy of competing with the economically advanced nations in the exploration of the moon or planets or manned space flight. But we are convinced that if we are to play a meaningful role nationally and in the community of nations, we should be second to none in the application of advanced technologies to the real problems of man and society.”

With this founding sentiment, almost all of ISRO’s initial missions were about improving the quality of information for the Indian common man. They launched weather satellites, geo-mapping satellites and such, which would provide data that could be used to further improve the conditions for the people of India.

Since then, ISRO has come a long way. From a time where test satellites had to be carried to the launchpads on bullock carts, ISRO has now become the first to establish the presence of water on the Moon with Chandrayaan 1, have launched the most number of satellites (104) in a single launch, become the first to reach Mars in the first attempt, and are now aiming to become the first to land a probe on the south pole of the Moon.

When ISRO launched the Mangalyaan, it made big ripples in the space exploration industry. Being the first nation to successfully put a satellite into Martian orbit on the first try was a huge deal. Plus, the entire mission cost less than the budget of the movie Gravity, and a fraction of the budget NASA spent for its Mars mission. But when you look at the numbers, things become more obvious.

The Difference in Missions

When you compare the mass of the two payloads, the difference in costs becomes more apparent. While MAVEN Mars Mission by NASA had a dry mass of 717KG and wet mass of 2250KG, the Mangalyaan had a dry mass of 500KG and wet mass of 1350KG. Mangalyaan was planned for 160 days, while MAVEN was planned to last for at least a year. See the difference?

Same goes for the Chandrayaan 2 launch that recently took place. While collecting data is an important aspect of the mission, it is not meant to be a long-duration mission. ISRO aims to be the first in the world to land a probe on the lunar south pole and collect data over the period of one lunar day, which is equivalent to 14 Earth days and return.

ISRO is able to achieve these feats primarily because of its tremendous pressure on them for success. Unlike NASA which has almost $20 Billion as their annual budget, ISRO has only $1.8 billion. Unlike NASA, which took 4 failed attempts before they were able to successfully reach Mars, ISRO did not have the resources to have the luxury to fail. Thus, success on the first attempt was their only option.  Same goes for the much more recent Chandrayaan 2 launch.

ISRO also keeps their missions very focused. As mentioned earlier, ISRO is not looking to compete with other nations, and therefore, can have multiple Chandrayaan Missions with varying objectives, mission durations and mission payloads instead of doing it all in a single go.

One should also keep in mind the kind of global environment these two organizations were conceived in. NASA was established as response or retaliation by the United States to the launch of the first artificial satellite (Sputnik-1) by the then Soviet Union during the Space Race. ISRO was established much later in 1969, superseding the Indian National Committee for Space Research, with research and technology development as its main aim. Since ISRO does not aim to compete with any other agency in the exploration of space and other planets, it does not seem to be in a  rush to reach the moon or Mars in a superfast rocket.

What You Can Learn From ISRO

It may not seem like it, but this whole comparison also has a few lessons you can learn and implement in your daily life. Here are a few:

1. Stay True To Your Aim
With space exploration and colonization of other planets being all the hype among space agencies all over the world, both government and private, it could have been very easy for ISRO to join the race as well. But time and again, ISRO has stayed true to the vision set by Vikram Sarabhaia, that is not to compete with others, and keep developing our country’s technology and capabilities in space exploration.

2. Never Compare Yourselves To Others
It is very easy to lose sight of your goal when you compare yourself with other people’s progress and achievements. Staying true to their aim, ISRO has never worried about their mission goals and aims to be different or short-termed than NASA or ESA. This is extremely important to implement in your daily life, to not compare your progress with others, and keep your eyes on what you want to achieve and where you want to be through your hard work.

3. Work Hard In Silence, Let Your Success Make The Noise
This has been consistent with recent launches carried out by ISRO, be it becoming the first space agency to reach Mars on their first attempt, launching the most number of satellites in a single launch vehicle or their attempt to become the first space agency to land a probe on the south pole of the moon. You can implement this in your life, working hard on your dreams and goals, and letting your success show how far you have come, what you have achieved and how much you have grown.

4. Where you came from doesn’t matter. Where you end up does.
ISRO can be the definition of the term ‘humble beginnings’. There are available in the archives of ISRO photographs of prototypes and test satellites being carried on cycles and on bullock carts. From 1969 to 2019, the achievements of ISRO are truly boasting worthy. Despite having humble beginnings and limited resources, ISRO has proved that it is not a small-time player in the space exploration game, and can achieve feats none have before no matter what. Learning from this, you should never be worried about where you come from or where you are, as long as you keep working towards where you want to be.

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