Indian space program workers celebrate Mars orbit



I have to say I think this been a pretty impressive ongoing mission.


Good for them, but I hope we don’t jump to the conclusion that NASA and the ESA are overspending. India has successfully orbited a cheap probe and they should be proud of that. But given the number of cheap probes that have died at Mars, I don’t think we should be considering cutting back on the funding for the tried and true methods that have brought so much success in the last decade.


I’m honestly curious whether their program is so cheap because they’ve got some super amazing / clever / efficient way of cutting down the costs… or if it’s just the fact that EVERYTHING is cheaper in India, due to a totally different cost of living. Or possibly some combination of the two?

Completely unverified personal anecdote, but…

I was told not that long ago that a person can live in India comfortably, without having to work, with all the major conveniences, for something like $5 a week. Wages are astoundingly low, compared to the West, but so are basic costs.

That said, I am very much an ignorant foreigner and I might have been misled or misinformed. Anyone with more direct experience and information with some insights?


Cheap labor is one part. The Space Probe was also relatively small and primitive, with just 13kg of payload making it to Mars. That said, just getting in orbit around Mars is a huge challenge, so I commend them on making it on the first try.


India didn’t do the program for $74m. The government has been quite tight-lipped about how that number was computed.

  1. It is widely believed that that number does NOT include the engineers’ salaries. The argument is that they are public servants and were already being paid, so their salaries shouldn’t be included in the “mission cost”

  2. India leaned on NASA, heavily, for some crucial knowledge to get a working orbiter. That didn’t show up in the budget.

  3. That cost did not include much of the infrastructure. For example. India doesn’t have the capability to talk to Mangalayaan on their own; they rely on NASAs Deep Space Network.

“Mar” IS a great example of “Better, Cheaper, Faster” and successful cooperation with NASA.

Let JPL keeps doing the expensive, cutting-edge engineering (eg the Sky Crane for the Curiousity Lander) and maintaining the expensive, extensive infrastructure to keep interplanetary exploration going, while India learns from our triumphs and losses to produce ever more effective probes.

A beautiful partnership to get humans ever closer to the stars.


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That chart is a little out of date. It’s also a bit of a cold shower for those “lets do a 1 way trip to Mars” people. The odds of landing intact are not great, although they are improving over time. I would definitely not do it in an old Soviet design.

FYI, the Phobos-Grunt mission was a failure too.

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Great Graphic.

Three of the four “future” mission outcomes are now known.

  1. Phobo-Grunt: failed
  2. Mars Science Labaratory: successful rover
  3. Maven: successful orbiter.

So still a 1-in-3 failure rate.

Mars is hard.


This is a threat to our American way of life.

Not only that, MOM while being cheap is nowhere near as capable as Mars Express, MAVEN, MRO or even the 13 year old Mars Odyssey. I just hope India can look past the cost, and not be chained to an expectation of low costs. As after all, if India is going to have a capable space program it will have to spend more in the future. MOM is great for a first step beyond the moon, but if you want to do serious science you need a bigger payload and that means a bigger more powerful rocket among other things

Both, especially with the MOM. It was launched using the smaller PSLV rocket, which is mature tech, instead of the GSLV which is more capable, but in general still having teething trouble (several launches failed). Also, it reuses a lot of technology from the pretty wildly successful INSAT (Geostationary communication satellites) and more importantly, the IRS (Indian Remote Sensing Satellite) series. The latter, being launched by the same PSLVs, is wildly successful, and its imagery is very high quality. They also reused some stuff they’d developed for Chandrayaan. Then, after having built the whole thing essentially from interchangeable spare parts, they used a slower but cheaper technique of getting there, which saved a few million.

Of course, salaries in India are much lower than in the US. The salaries of the highest paid ISRO scientists is probably just a bit higher than the US median income, but they can literally live like princes here on that, especially with government-provided accommodation, since they’re government employees.

It also doesn’t include lots of development costs for the components of the system - especially the PSLV that got amortized over two decades of mostly-successful polar satellite launches. But the sanctioned mission cost was about $74 million.

That has been remarked upon here too. The key to understanding it is that the cost is not low as a specific design point of the program, but because they couldn’t use the more capable (and more expensive) GSLV. PSLV’s launch weight is much less than the GSLV, but having the thing blow up on the launchpad, or go up and insert into the wrong Earth-orbit, or whatever, would have been bloody embarrassing to the say the least! Both of those are things that actually happened, incidentally.

Chandrayaan II is slated to use the GSLV, so I assume they’ll be careful.


You can’t live a western lifestyle on $5 a week. Average earnings are on the order of $20 a day and the average lifestyle is obviously far below that in the developed world. That being said, some things are incredibly cheap there and it is a wonderful and tremendously interesting place.

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That’s an impressive number of women in the photo. :slight_smile:


Like America, it also very much depends on where in India you are. That said, you can’t even eat anything better than rice and daal for every meal for $5 a week, anywhere in India.

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For perspective, several of the individual tools I work with cost more than that, one of them several times as much.

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I, for one, look forward to our new Desi overlords.

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Interesting how its Indian Space Program “Workers” not “Scientists”. Like in every NASA press communication. Anyways, Bravo. Makes me proud.

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It’s definitely not $5 a week, not for scientists in a space program. Maybe 50-100 is closer to the mark. But apart from that, as I said above, they get free accommodation, free transport (mostly), and much much mode, being government employees (and senior ones at that). Sure, it’s not a “western lifestyle” in many ways, but it’s comfortable - luxurious even - and they’re quite happy.

$5 a week is pretty close to the poverty line here.

At least a few of those ladies are definitely scientists and technicians working at Mission Control. But there may also be a couple of cleaning ladies mixed in there too, so “workers” is more generic… :wink:

Costs are generally lower in India and that was part of the reason for this missions price tag. The important thing to remember is that this was a proof of principle mission with a small science payload. Now that ISRO has shown they can get there, there is the potential to plan heavier and more complex missions. Here’s hoping Mangalyaan is able to maintain its orbit and get at least part of it’s modest science program accomplished. Congratulations to all the incredible scientists and engineers who made this possible!