Putting India's Absurdly Cheap Mission To Mars In Perspective

Adam Taylor

Somehow, India plans to send a satellite to Mars — already a difficult task with 21 of 51 global missions to the red planet having failed — for the incredibly low cost of $73 million.

Let's compare this to some other space mission and some Hollywood space missions for perspective.

First, consider NASA's Maven satellite, which is due to launch later November and is broadly comparable in scope to India's mission. It costs $671 million.

Second, NASA's more ambitious Mars Curiosity mission, launched in 2011 and cost $2.5 billion.

How does it compare to other expensive things? Well, as one Reddit user has pointed out, it's less than the estimated budget ($105 million) for critically acclaimed space film "Gravity," released earlier this year:

For one thing, the mission is cutting corners, using existing technology as much as possible, and minimizing the number of physical test models used by replacing them with computer simulations. David Alexander, director of the Rice Space Institute, told NPR that India's cheaper labor costs may well also keep costs down too.

Is a cheap mission to Mars it a good investment?

A cheaper Mars mission is in many ways a riskier Mars mission, but so far India's done better than China and Russia's failed 2011 attempt, which suffered a number of problems after launch and never made it beyond low Earth orbit. There has, however, been some compelling criticism that India shouldn't be spending money on Mars when so many of its citizens live in poverty.

But remember, you have to put money in to get money out — Gravity turned a huge profit at the box office. Investing in things like space missions has in the past spurred innovation and created jobs.

India's Mars mission could very well crash and burn, but even if it makes it the return is unclear.

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