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Scientists Sent a Rocket To Mars For Less Than It Cost To Make ‘The Martian’

Ipsita Agarwal via Backchannel retells the story of how India’s underfunded space organization, ISRO, managed to send a rocket to Mars for less than it cost to make the movie “The Martian,” starring Matt Damon as Mark Watney. “While NASA’s Mars probe, Maven, cost $651 million, the budget for this mission was $74 million,” Agarwal writes. In what appears to be India’s version of “Hidden Figures” (a movie that also cost more to make than ISRO’s budget for the Mars rocket), the team of scientists behind the rocket launch consisted of Indian women, who not only managed to pull off the mission successfully but did so in only 18 months. Backchannel reports: A few months and several million kilometers later, the orbiter prepared to enter Mars’ gravity. This was a critical moment. If the orbiter entered Mars’ gravity at the wrong angle, off by so much as one degree, it would either crash onto the surface of Mars or fly right past it, lost in the emptiness of space. Back on Earth, its team of scientists and engineers waited for a signal from the orbiter. Mission designer Ritu Karidhal had worked 48 hours straight, fueled by anticipation. As a child, Minal Rohit had watched space missions on TV. Now, Minal waited for news on the orbiter she and her colleague, Moumita Dutta, had helped engineer. When the signal finally arrived, the mission control room broke into cheers. If you work in such a room, deputy operations director, Nandini Harinath, says, “you no longer need to watch a thriller movie to feel the thrill in life. You feel it in your day-to-day work.” This was not the only success of the mission. An image of the scientists celebrating in the mission control room went viral. Girls in India and beyond gained new heroes: the kind that wear sarees and tie flowers in their hair, and send rockets into space. User shas3 notes in a comment on Hacker News’ post: “If you are interested in Indian women scientists and engineers, there is a nice compilation (a bit tiresome to read, but worth it, IMO) of biographical essays called ‘Lilvati’s Daughters.'”


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