In the run up to the Chandrayaan 2’s lander landing on the moon, I’ve been reading and listening to a wide variety of comments and opinions. There are questions being raised about the point of Chandrayaan 2 and missions like it. Couldn’t the $141 million dollars be spent on something more useful? What exactly does it mean when people say that the hopes and dreams of more than a billion Indians will be fulfilled by Chandrayaan 2? How exactly does this benefit the common man or the tax payer who is funding this lofty enterprise?
To understand the point of Chandrayaan 2 and missions like it, you need to understand how scientists and engineers work. They don’t work in a vaccuum. By that I mean you can’t place a scientist in a lab filled with equipment and resources and ask him to do something. There needs to be a challenge so difficult that scientists and engineers will need to invent new things or drastically improve existing things to do a better job. These inventions and processes eventually find their way to industry and find real world applications for the benefit of mankind.
Take memory foam as a mundane example. NASA needed aircraft seats which offered reduced impact on landing. We sleep better at night as a direct result of this invention. Sometimes scientists can’t get things done all by themselves and involve their counterparts in industry. NASA worked with Nestle to invent freeze drying, a process of dehydration of food to make it convenient for transport. The benefits to mankind are obvious. There are countless more examples like this.
What makes the Chrandrayaan 2 mission fascinating is its low cost. This was possible because ISRO collaborated with around 500 universities and 120 companies to tap into their scientific and engineering resources. Imagine the number of challenges ISRO imposed on these very intelligent and driven people. Imagine how many of those challenges were conquered to make Chandrayaan 2 happen in $141 million. Imagine how many real world applications will be found as a result of overcoming these challenges, thereby helping Indian products become more efficient, cost effective, competitive and making India more self reliant.
There may be merit in questioning the point of spending $430 million dollars to build the tallest statue in the world. But frankly I don’t see merit in questioning the point of Chandrayaan 2 and missions like it.