Every time the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) announces a new outer space mission,  a cry is raised—from a segment typically identified only as “critics”—about the “unaffordability” of such missions for a “poor” country like India.  Here is a typical example:

Critics of the Indian Mars mission wondered whether the country can afford huge costs for this space voyage.

As usual the critics are not identified, and the criticism is in terms of a fuzzy notion of “huge” costs. (Un)fortunately for the critics, a simple check of publicly available statistics would have been enough to allay fears of unaffordability.

The total cost, spread over several years, of ISRO’s Mars mission planned for late 2013 is estimated to be about ₹450 crores ($76 million). Let us compare that with just the planned annual expenditure of some key departments of the Indian government in the year 2011-2012.

  • Road Transport and Highways: ₹19740.78 crores ($3.32 billion).
  • Rural Development: ₹64218.99 crores ($10.8 billion).
  • Health and Family Welfare: ₹20669.36 crores ($3.48 billion).

Suddenly the “huge” costs of the Mars mission start looking rather tiny.  The cost of the similarly criticized Moon Mission was even smaller.

I think it is amply clear that there is no empirical basis for calling ISRO’s programs “expensive” or “unaffordable”, and that the Indian government has not been cutting key sectors to fund a space megalomania.  The unnamed critics probably already know this, but fearlessly prevent such small statistical anomalies from affecting their emphatic pronouncements.

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