The False Space Vs Survival Dichotomy

Here’s why all those naysayers are wrong about India’s record-breaking success at launching 104 satellites at one go.

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AsianScientist (Feb. 24, 2017) – Earlier this month, on February 14th, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) announced the successful launch of a PSLV rocket containing 104 satellites, thus smashing the previous record for the number of satellites launched in a single rocket (the previous record being held by Russia who had launched 37 in 2014).

Opinions on social media were divided. On one side were the proud Indians who were (rightfully) chuffed with yet another achievement from ISRO. And on the other side, came the same tired old arguments which you hear whenever a developing nation attempts to do anything remotely related to space.

“Booo! India can’t even manage its own poverty! You should worry about your own people first before wasting money in space!” came the same mindless chant from people who know nothing about space industry economics.

Firstly, let me just point out that no government in the history of the world has ever diverted resources from space research into fighting poverty. Not that it would do any good anyway; you can’t combat poverty by throwing money at the problem.

Give a man a fish, you can feed him for a day… give him a space program and he can feed himself for a lifetime (to paraphrase that old Chinese proverb). The original proverb espoused the value of education and self reliance over charity and hand-outs. And as I am about to show you, space research is the gift that keeps on giving.

Five reasons why space research is better than a stupid fish

  1. The Tamil Nadu Precision Farming Project in India have reported increases in yield of over 125 percent for maize crops by using satellite-based precision farming techniques. Similar yield increases are reported wherever precision farming is employed. Fact: Space technology does help to feed the poor.

  2. For every dollar spent on space research, between $8 and $14 is returned to the economy via tech spin-offs. If you don’t believe me, then throw away your cell phone because one in three cell phone cameras uses a camera that is derived from space tech.

  3. Speaking of spin-offs, NASA has over 2,500 spin-off technologies which benefit our daily lives here on Earth, many of those are used to save lives in developing nations. In fact, India is already reaping the benefits of ISRO spin-offs, including disaster monitoring systems, weather tracking tech and distress beacons to name but a few.

  4. Much of what we use today in the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) global standards comes from NASA and DoD processes. Better project management equals more efficient projects, reduced cost and improved documentation. If India applies project management processes learned from ISRO projects on a wider scale, then this can only benefit the economy.

  5. And finally, societal value. This is a hard one to measure because the benefits are just too far reaching. In the years after the NASA Apollo missions, there were sharp increases in the number of people wanting to study STEM related subjects. Likewise, it is fair to say that India will benefit in similar ways, as a result of ISRO inspiring youth into STEM fields.

That is just a small selection of the benefits that can be gained from research into space. The “space or food” debate has been settled a long time ago, and it has been proven many times to be a false dichotomy; you can indeed have both.

So the next time you see someone online parroting that a developing nation must “fix their problems on Earth first” just show them this article or send them over to the NASA spin-off website and show them exactly how money is not “spent on space”… but rather it is spent on Earth and everyone—rich or poor—benefits from it.

This article is from a monthly column called Final Frontiers. Click here to see the other articles in this series.


Copyright: Asian Scientist Magazine; Photo: ISRO.
Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of AsianScientist or its staff.

Phillip Keane has a bachelor degree in aerospace engineering from Coventry University, UK, and an MSc in Space Studies from International Space University in France. He loves all things space and science fiction.

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