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Mars Earth Movies NASA Space The Almighty Buck Technology

Scientists Sent a Rocket To Mars For Less Than It Cost To Make 'The Martian' (backchannel.com) 180

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.'"

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

Comments Filter:
  • Vagina award (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Iamthecheese ( 1264298 ) on Friday March 17, 2017 @11:38PM (#54063783)
    Just once can we let a girl do something without showering her with praises for doing it with a vagina? How about praising them for a remarkable scientific achievement? Or for sticking to a tight budget? Or for helping mankind? Or for their dedication. Every time I did something if someone brought up the fact that I also have testicles I would quickly get the idea they think testicles hold a person back. Cut this shit out. We'll never, ever move on until people like whoever wrote the summary stop holding us back.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      I think the problem might be that you have a fixation.

      The story is about getting to mars on a tight budget, less than it cost to make a popular mars movie recently. As a side note it happens that there were quite a few women engineers and it cost less than another movie about women space engineers.

      It is only you that sees vaginas as the main part of the story.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        No it's not. The comparison being made is idiotic clickbait. It isn't interesting or relevant to anyone who knows anything about the movie or space industries. The real intention is to make sure you know the race and the genitals of the people involved.

        If the equivalent language was written for whites, it'd be labeled as white supremacy and censored.

    • The symbol of Equality and Justice is the empty scale. We get this from Socrates defining Justice and Equality. When a person or group puts bias or favoritism on the scale, the arms move. The natural response is to add favoritism or bias to counter the first. However, no to people, groups, issues, circumstances, or conclusions are the same. It is impossible to get back to equality while something exists on the scale. Now when you look at society, you can have a scale with countless pans for every pers

    • The only words I saw that had any impact on me, out of everything you wrote, is "tight" and "vagina". Just sayin' ;-)
    • Re:Vagina award (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Dutchmaan ( 442553 ) on Saturday March 18, 2017 @12:53AM (#54063969) Homepage

      It's not the fact that they did it "with a vagina"... It's that they did it in an environment where simply having a vagina sets up barriers to your success.

      Example: Women gaining the right to vote wasn't considered an accomplishment *because* they have a vagina, but in spite of that fact.

      • by Jiro ( 131519 )

        Countries that have reached some partial success but are also still developing tend to have lots of female engineers because women don't have the luxury of choosing jobs that they like or which are more fulfilling--they are otherwise poor and take whatever job will make the most money. In the West we have fewer female engineers because women have more options. Only people who like it (meaning geeks, meaning mostly men) or people who can manage "man works bad job so wife can do something fulfilling" (men)

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by drinkypoo ( 153816 )

        It's not the fact that they did it "with a vagina"... It's that they did it in an environment where simply having a vagina sets up barriers to your success.

        That seems to be stating it mildly considering India's attitude towards women. They did it in a country where you can be raped on a bus and the police will not even make an attempt to secure your assailants.

        Hmm, when I put it like that, it's an even greater accomplishment, but it makes me sicker. But it's also true.

    • by Kergan ( 780543 )

      It's not a matter of course that you can do this type of stuff as a woman in the better parts of Asia and Africa.

      • Actually, it's a common-enough occurrence that emerging positions or fields are filled with more women just before they gain prestige. It happened with computer programming in the 1950s US. It happened with medical and engineering positions in Africa and Middle East. Why shouldn't it happen with Indian aerospace?
  • Nobody sensible would consider that a meaningful comparison either.

    Second the Martian made a profit, and the mars mission hasn't. So the Mars mission actually had a much higher net cost.

    • by geekmux ( 1040042 ) on Saturday March 18, 2017 @05:37AM (#54064411)

      Nobody sensible would consider that a meaningful comparison either.

      Second the Martian made a profit, and the mars mission hasn't. So the Mars mission actually had a much higher net cost.

      I would sincerely hope that any space mission will net a far better return for the entire human race than 2 hours of fictional bullshit on the big screen, so I think we can stop with this rather silly comparison now.

      • MOM was a technical experiment, though. Its scientific payload was a rather small bonus. The operational experience to ISRO was probably much more important.
      • Nobody sensible would consider that a meaningful comparison either.

        Second the Martian made a profit, and the mars mission hasn't. So the Mars mission actually had a much higher net cost.

        I would sincerely hope that any space mission will net a far better return for the entire human race than 2 hours of fictional bullshit on the big screen, so I think we can stop with this rather silly comparison now.

        2 hours of tape for which people paid $630,000,000 to watch. Personally I prefer the footage of actual mars missions but even at the price of nothing you still get far fewer eyeballs then the fictional, "human drama" centered bullshit

    • Exactly it isn't the cost that is holding us back.
      It is the ambition to do so. The individuals with the money to do this would much rather risk their money in someothst can have a better reward for them.
      That is why space exploration has been in the domain of governments because it had latitude to try thing for betterment of its citizens.
      But today man space flight seems like a waste of effort to the government because of lack of leadership and risks of failure will cause lost jobs

      • Exactly it isn't the cost that is holding us back.

        Cost is very much holding you back if just landing one tonne of equipment on the surface of Mars costs you $200M in launch money alone, and several more $100M for a suitable lander. Pray that the Falcons and New Glenns and ITSs of the future make things in space significantly cheaper, otherwise you're not going to see a tremendous lot of progress in space exploration.

  • by joe_frisch ( 1366229 ) on Friday March 17, 2017 @11:56PM (#54063837)

    Really. Not a snark, not a joke, I mean it. Its really fantastic that they managed a Mars mission on an extremely tight budget. Its a really difficult project and they did a fantastic job.

    This sort of ultra-cheap approach might allow lots of probes to be sent to less studied bodies.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Says more about what the editors are obsessing over than anything else.

    • Re: (Score:1, Troll)

      by eyenot ( 102141 )

      no I'm pretty sure there are some influential Indians among the people who took over Slashdot.

      Indians only care about India. they're self-exotifying and it's sickening. the British really did a number on them, so now they're second only to China in the sheer scale of pure bullshit riddling their academe.

      • At least they're still nowhere near as self-absorbed, self-obsessed and ignorant of the rest of the world as Americans.

  • by Strider- ( 39683 ) on Saturday March 18, 2017 @12:23AM (#54063911)

    The $651 million for Maven includes all the support costs for the mission. The salaries of the controllers, paying their share of time on the Deep Space Network, etc... Does the $74 million include the same thing? If not, then it's a comparison between Apples and Baseballs.

  • by ghoul ( 157158 ) on Saturday March 18, 2017 @12:40AM (#54063943)

    What is this 2015?

  • .. the martian took millions of people to Mars!
  • by Anonymous Coward

    "Girls in India and beyond gained new heroes: the kind that wear sarees"
    When I was a boy one of my heroes was Marie Curie, and it didn't particularly bother me one way or another that she had no penis. So
    a) why would these women be a hero only for "girls in India and beyond"? Their achievements had nothing to do with their womanhood, it was technical.
    b) why would these women not be heroes for "boys?" Do their vaginas disqualify them from the possibility of admiration by humans with penises?

    • by JaredOfEuropa ( 526365 ) on Saturday March 18, 2017 @06:38AM (#54064493) Journal
      When you were a boy, you weren't told all day: "Only girls can study physics." "Boys should stay at home until their parents find them a suitable wife." "A man's place is in the kitchen, or walking 2 meters behind his wife." If you had been, you would probably have reacted differently to a man being successful in science despite such cultural obstacles.

      Curie is still a hero for beating the prejudice of her time, but the difference in perception is in the eye of the beholder: boy in a more or less egalitarian society (at least when it comes to the sexes), or girl in a culture where women are not supposed to do such things. To the boy, Curie is mostly a historical example of a heroic struggle. To a girl in India, it's proof that her life and her society don't have to be the way they are.
  • Hollywood should be sending money to fund women making space rockets instead of movies ?

    How does that model work to fund more movies?

    And when that model sucks all the money out of Hollywood - how do they send money?

  • by Solandri ( 704621 ) on Saturday March 18, 2017 @02:08AM (#54064109)
    Following the loss of Mars Observer ($813 million), NASA adopted a new low-cost philosophy of "Faster, Better, Cheaper" Mars missions. Mars Pathfinder was the first FBC mission and was a resounding success. Mars Climate Orbiter [wikipedia.org] was then sent to Mars with a launch rocket cost of just $91.7 million, for a total mission cost of $327.6 million. This was the mission that was lost due to a English vs. metric mixup. The problem would've been caught on the ground in preliminary testing, but that testing had been eliminated as a cost-saving measure. A month later, Mars Polar Lander [wikipedia.org] was lost due to (we think) the descent software misidentifying vibrations from the deployment of the landing legs as contact with the ground, cutting off the descent engine about 40 meters above the ground.

    NASA subsequently abandoned the low-cost philosophy. Better to lose an expensive mission due to bad luck, than to lose a bunch of cheap missions due to dumb mistakes that would've been caught if we'd paid for some simple but thorough testing.
    • "Better to lose an expensive mission due to bad luck, than to lose a bunch of cheap missions due to dumb mistakes"

      Why is that better? Plus expensive missions go bad for other reasons than luck.
      • by drhamad ( 868567 )
        Because you're less likely to lose the expensive mission - more testing, better technology, etc. FBC sounds good because you don't care as much if you lose any given mission. But if you start losing multiple, even that adds up.
        • It's math, and they've been deciding with politics.

          You look at the budget compared to the risk; if you can cut costs by 50% for less than double the risk, you're ahead of the game.

          The problem is people see a few missions go splat and it's a big PR problem for future funding, even if you're actually getting more science for your dollar over all. And, of course, given the complexity of interplanetary missions I'm not confident you can decrease costs by a greater amount than you increase risks anyway.

          • by drhamad ( 868567 )
            Well yeah, that was the goal. The problem was that they weren't cutting the risk by more than the cost cutting. They lost two "cheap" missions in a row. It isn't like there's so many of these that it easily averages out.
  • Have them make 'The Martian' then also, to save money. Not sure about Bollywood theme music, though.

  • by ghoul ( 157158 ) on Saturday March 18, 2017 @02:37AM (#54064173)

    The Mangalyaan is old news. India is already working on Chandrayaan 2 which will have a lunar lander and Mangalyaan 2 which may have a lander. China is working on a space station. Yes its cheaper to do stuff in India but the focus should not be on just the cost, it should be on India building up capability to do stuff. BTW the reason its cheaper to do stuff in India is salaries can be lower as the salaries of the working class are at survival levels. Something to grow out of not celebrate.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Watch the white male supremacist mob freaking out and foaming at their mouths. Pretty disgusting.

    Ladies -- let me congratulate you and let me tell you that I am (I'm a Westerner and a man) pretty ashamed of the behaviour some of those like me put on display.

    You work hard, you have dreams. That's the spirit. Those old white guys do neither, that's why they are so sad. Might they slowly die out.

    • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

      by drinkypoo ( 153816 )

      You work hard, you have dreams. That's the spirit. Those old white guys do neither, that's why they are so sad. Might they slowly die out.

      Yeah, and these young white guys who hate women also do neither. Might they quickly die out before they become old men, and actually have some kind of power to harm people beyond crying on slashdot.

    • Setting aside the fact that a substantial, if not overwhelming portion of ISRO are actually male Indo-Europeans, I don't think that knee-jerk reactions along the lines of "women detected, any criticism unwelcome" are justified.

      For example, one might immediately notice that Indian aerospace engineers receive a salary many times lower than their US counterparts (when I checked for it, it turned out to be about 10x lower), which means that - just like Russians - they're not achieving these results somehow more

      • Did you also check the cost of living differences between India and the US? Out of all the moronic "observations" you make on here, that one is pretty high up there.
        • That is the reason why the salaries can be lower, but if you want to compare the efficiency of doing things, for judging whether the fixed amount of $74 million spent on the mission is actually low or high, it works against India. But I don't expect you of all people to grasp this fine point. ;)
  • The cost of living in Delhi is, for a one bedroom apartment in the center, 16400 rupees on average which is about 250 USD. The average cost of living in New York is 3900 USD, so that's 15.6 times more expensive. Taking that into account, the converted cost of this mission was 1.15 billion USD, making this a pretty damn expensive mission, especially considering that it had a smaller and less capable spacecraft than US efforts.

    And before you tell me that New York is so expensive: so is Delhi if you're an Indi

  • So does that also mean it is now cheaper to have India actually send a man to the moon than to have Hollywood fake it?

  • The Martian might have cost more to make, but in the end it made a half billion dollar profit. Comparing the profit of the two projects makes just as much sense as comparing the costs, doesn't it?
  • by JustAnotherOldGuy ( 4145623 ) on Saturday March 18, 2017 @11:10AM (#54065327)

    "Mission designer Ritu Karidhal had worked 48 hours straight, fueled by anticipation." ...and a 55-gallon drum of coffee.

  • Instead of "Houston, we have a problem" we'll have "Mumbai, do me the needful."

  • for women.

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