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PBS scolds India for having a space program

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On January 18, 2014, a segment that aired on the PBS Newshour seemed to scold the country of India for having a space program while roughly a third of that country resides in abject poverty. The segment quotes Brinda Adige, who runs an NGO called Global Concerns India, as bemoaning the idea that India is spending money on exploring space.

“At one end of the spectrum so much of money that is being spent to send a rocket out into outer space, when we know that here on Earth, in my country there are children, dying every day because they have no food to eat. So many of them, spending their days and nights without electricity. No roads, no education no.”

Some of the same rhetoric used to be made by American politicians to attack NASA spending. The Reverend Ralph Abernathy, a civil rights leader, staged a protest against the launch of Apollo 11, suggesting that money spent exploring the moon would be better spent on poverty programs. In the 1960s and 1970s, Walter Mondale, then a United States senator and subsequently a vice president and candidate for president, proposed huge cutbacks in NASA spending which would have ended human space flight after the Apollo program, citing poverty as a reason.

The debate concerning India’s space program is following much of the same lines as that which occurred in America. India does not spend a lot of money on space exploration; a recent Mars probe costs $70 million. Space technology has social benefits, especially in weather forecasting, as well as job creation. India is loath to fall behind China in space exploration.

Politicians in America no longer cite poverty or any other social ills as a reason to be stingy about space exploration. It should be noted though that under the Obama administration NASA spending has been flat or declining while spending for social programs like food stamps has exploded. It suggests that while the rhetoric has cooled, the attitude of pitting space against social programs remains.

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