Global Insider: India’s Space Program, Once a Pragmatic Goal, Now a Strategic Necessity

The Indian Space Research Organization's latest budget allocated $25 million to a plan to send an orbiter to Mars to study its atmosphere. In an email interview, Joan Johnson-Freese, a professor of national security affairs at the Naval War College who writes in a personal capacity, discussed India’s space program.

WPR: What is the current scope of India's space program, and what are its priority programs, both short-term and long-term?

Joan Johnson-Freese: The scope of India’s space program has recently expanded significantly. Dr. Vikram Sarabhai, considered the father of India’s space program, unambiguously stated its original purpose as being focused on the application of advanced technologies to the real problems of humankind and society. Toward that end, the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), created in 1969, focused on areas like communications and Earth observation, and India was among the first countries to use space technology for developmental health purposes, such as locating areas of heavy standing ground water, so that the government could then spray there for malaria-carrying mosquitos. Sarabhai also stated that India did “not have the fantasy of competing with economically advanced nations” in areas like exploration of the moon, planets and manned spaceflight.

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