Homing in on Mars

WHEN AN international space research organisation, Mars One, recently invited global entries for its one-way trip to colonise Mars with humans in 2023, among the 165,000 hopefuls were a whopping 8,000 Indians.

By Neeta Lal (Issues)

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Published: Sat 21 Sep 2013, 11:42 PM

Last updated: Tue 7 Apr 2015, 7:19 PM

Who can blame these desis for envisioning life on another planet? After all, India’s economy is tottering, forex reserves are dwindling faster than you could say `Palaniappan Chidambaram’, the price of onions is giving grief to all even as unctuous politicians are flourishing. In such a scenario, Mars certainly sounds like an out-of-the-world idea.

What’s more, the opportunity may well be like getting a salaried job or a pension for life for the wannabe astronauts. This is because the project’s funding ($6 billion) will be met by creating the biggest media spectacle of all time — a reality TV show — that will cover every stage of the operation. The resulting financial spoils, one reckons, will be shared with those onboard.

Small wonder, Mumbai-based Sameer Kumar Lowe, an erstwhile radar engineer applied to be on Mars One despite stiff familial opposition. The 50-year-old is “frustrated” by the fact that he hasn’t been able to build a house even at this ripe age. Ergo, a Martian salary may not only make his wife and engineer son (also unemployed) “financially secure” but also facilitate their entry into a 2 BHK.

Interestingly, most Indian aspirants are males. There are engineers, a psychiatrist, a cardiologist, a chartered accountant and a smattering of call centre executives. Vinod Kotiya, a 32-year-old manager and dad to a one-year-old daughter says having a family didn’t deter him from applying on the very first day the Mars One website began accepting applications.

It’s a different matter that when Kotiya’s wife learnt of her spouse’s intentions, she threatened to lie in front of the rocket, Bollywood-style, and not let it take off. But realising the futility of such drama, she soon acquiesced. Perhaps it dawned on her that hubby dear won’t make the cut as only four astronauts are to be chosen for the final mission.

Kundan and Amulya, both applicants in their twenties, are buddies and hope to give each other company on Mars. Will they miss their other friends? “Yes, but there’s always the possibility of a video chat to talk to folks back home,” they say cheerily. But they’ll surely miss “Dilli ke golgappe!” they concede.

In other words, none of the wannabe Indian astronauts are daunted by the prospect of the one-way ticket to Mars. After all, there are so many similarities between Mars and India. Martian days are about half-an-hour longer than Earth days. In other words, one gets 687 days versus 365 days a year on Earth. This means that the astronauts will get all the time in the world to meet their project deadlines. Who better than the procrastinating Indians to appreciate this? Considering things rarely move in India (think traffic, files, queues, government projects…), the red planet will surely give them a homey feel.

Mars will also be reminiscent of India’s notorious dust. In fact the “Red Planet” gets its moniker from the fine, red dust that covers its entire surface. So intense dust storms — not dissimilar to the eddies of dust spewed by monstrous trucks on Indian roads — are not uncommon there. Again like India, Mars has some great topography. Olympus Mons, the biggest mountain in the entire solar system is gasp-inducing. It also boasts of humungous craters, not different from India’s pot-holed roads, another wonderful opportunity for the Indians to not miss home.

However, the biggest bonus of Martian scenery are its two moons in the nighttime skym— Phobos and Deimos. Considering India has just one moon, freebie-loving Indians will surely approve of this ‘buy one, get one free’ offer!

Neeta Lal is a freelance journalist based in New Delhi



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