What Would You Do With $72 Million? - Denny Scott
Seventy-two million dollars may seem like a lot of money but when you’re dealing with major corporations and ventures, but occasionally it can seem like it isn’t really all that much.
However, with $72 million, the Indian Space Research Organisation was able to not only launch a spacecraft but also manage to get it into orbit around Mars. How does that stack up? Well the North American Space Agency has put billions into similar projects.
But that number, $72 million, happens to be just north of what the Toronto Maple Leafs paid out to their players in 2014.
I’m picking on the Leafs here, but, really, I could point to any Canadian team. The Toronto Blue Jays paid substantially more than $72 million to their players last season.
There is a group of people in India who, for the same amount of money we pay a team of professional athletes, built, launched and successfully steered a spacecraft to a foreign planet.
To me, that’s mind-blowing.
This all occurred over the past couple of years. It was launched in November of 2013 and, late last year, successfully achieved orbit around Mars.
The probe contains instruments for detecting methane gas (which is typically attributed to living beings) in the relatively thin atmosphere of the red planet, special sensors to test the atmosphere, a camera and a special thermal detection apparatus to determine the presence and quantity of minerals on the planet.
If they find definitive proof of life or any scientific advancement at all, it means the nation, which is the fourth body to reach Earth’s neighbouring planet (behind Russia, the United States and the European Space Agency), will have achieved this feat for less than the cost of the three most expensive residential properties in Toronto combined ($28.8 million, $25 million and $19.8 million as of February).
I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that India faces many problems feeding the people in the nation and that money could have been spent in far more humane ways and if that is the takeaway some people get from the story, I think that is a completely legitimate concern.
That said, people spend far more money on far less important things than broadening humanity’s understanding of the universe. So while I won’t give India a pass on this, I will say I’m happier with that than, say, the millions of dollars spent on antique vehicles every year.
Heck, Boeing 737 jets, one of the most popular commercial airline vehicles in the world, sell for between $51.5 and $87 million according to 2009 reports. That means there are commercial planes out there travelling (at most, according to several sources regarding the longest non-stop flights)
13,805 kilometres over a 17 hour flight from Dallas in the United States to Sydney, Australia. India’s spacecraft went 225,300,000 kilometres for $72 million. That means that plane could make that 17-hour flight every day for 40 years and still have travelled about 25 million kilometres less and the maintenance wouldn’t cost as much (plus I have to imagine the meals on a spaceship would
be better than airline food, or at least in pill form). Of course, those planes usually make the return trip, so maybe that isn’t an apples-to-apples comparison.
In all seriousness though, this kind of turned what I knew about space travel on its ear.
If we can reach Mars for $72 million, why can’t we have some kind of permanent lunar colony? If we took even a portion of the defense budgets from around the world and focused them on extending humanity’s reach to the stars, we could reach the moon permanently in my lifetime. Maybe we could even start reaching beyond that if we employed the thrifty practices of the Indian Space Research Organisation.
We could develop new technologies, visit strange new worlds and races and maybe, just maybe, find some of the cures that have eluded medical science somewhere in the galaxy.
For once though, the staggering implications aren’t what is keeping my mind reeling, it’s just the sheer happiness that, for the first time in my life, I feel like reaching space is within my grasp.
Maybe it will take a decade or two, but, if we’re currently at a pro sports team’s wages to get to Mars, it can’t be long until it’s a mere $100,000 to see the moon.
I suppose I could criticize how much we pay these athletes, but bargain-basement space travel is really far more interesting. So why, then, did I point out that the Maple Leafs paid approximately $68 million in player salaries, bonus and benefits last year?
Well, it’s a joke.
For $72 million India can put a spacecraft in orbit around Mars. For nearly that same amount of money the Leafs couldn’t even land in the playoffs. Maybe folks in Toronto and Maple Leaf fans should start investing in space travel.
This opinion piece first appeared in the April 16, 2015 issue of The Citizen