India’s Mangalyaan satellite
As many news agencies have made clear, India’s Mangalyaan satellite has safely reached Mars and is currently orbiting the planet. Mission: try to understand why there is no water on the planet any longer. A noble cause for environmentalists who fear something of the sort may happen to our planet as well. Costs: a mere 74 million dollars, which according to the Indian Space Research Organisation’s (ISRO) Mr. Radhakrishnan is “the cheapest inter-planetary mission ever to be undertaken by the world”.
This is all good an well. As happy India’s population is (or not) with the news of finally showing the world that they are a technologically advanced country, and not stereotypical ‘snake charmers’ [sidenote: is this really what people think of first when hearing of India?]; there remains this one repeated comment in the news about the whole affair: “The Hollywood movie Gravity cost more than our Mars mission.”It is perhaps understandable to state the achievements of a country to do something so incredible at a low cost. And perhaps it is more striking that making a film is so expensive. What is quite surprising, however, and perhaps that is the point of the statement in the first place, is the cost of doing something being lower that the cost of pretending to do something – or entertaining people about that which is done.
Let us leave economics and politics aside for a moment; let us also forget Marx and capitalism. Instead, let us think about the value of things in non-economic sense, which seems to be quite difficult for some, in the sense of what we value more or less without a price tag. We may value happiness over health, for instance; or laughter and good time over sleep.
The point I am getting towards here, is the somewhat paradoxical relationship between the value of space travel and entertainment about space travel. The comparison achieves a shocking effect that it desires; but it also points out that we can and perhaps even should think about value in terms of financial costs. Perhaps I am overthinking things here, but shouldn’t we focus on our aims as people? This is not to say that we readily know our aims, or that we can achieve these without knowledge of costs – quite the contrary, without this knowledge we will not be able to achieve anything in our contemporary capitalist societies. Nevertheless, an occasional thought on value without considerations of financial costs may help us get further as civilizations.