x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

India’s space agency chief brought down to Earth by divine blessing

Chairman of organisation that launched successful Mars mission criticised for visiting temple.

NEW DELHI // The head of India’s space agency, basking in plaudits after the launch of the country’s first voyage to Mars, was brought down to Earth today by criticism of his decision to seek divine blessing for the mission.

K Radhakrishnan, chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), visited the famous Lord Venkateswara temple in southern India on Tuesday where he reportedly placed a replica of the Mars spacecraft at the feet of an idol.

Later in the day Mr Radhakrishnan oversaw the successful launch of the Mars Orbiter Mission, known as Mangalyaan in India, which is on an 11-month journey to study the Martian atmosphere.

India’s rationalist organisations, which campaign against religious superstition in the diverse but officially secular country, criticised the widely publicised temple visit.

“There would have been nothing wrong had he gone there in his personal capacity. But to go there as chairman of ISRO and ask for heavenly favour is nonsense,” Narendra Nayak, president of the Federation of Indian Rationalist Associations, said.

“It sends a wrong message to the common man who will think God can sort out all his troubles,” said Mr Nayak.

Sanal Edamaruku, president of the Indian Rationalist Association, also flayed the ISRO chief who was congratulated by the prime minister and president on Tuesday.

“What sort of message are we sending out to the world? It’s a shame for our country that prides itself on its secular credentials,” he said.

India is attempting its first interplanetary journey with a spacecraft built in just 15 months on a budget of US$73 million (Dh268m), a fraction of previous attempts.

More than half of all missions to Mars have ended in failure, including China’s in 2011 and Japan’s in 2003. Only the United States, Russia and the European space agency have succeeded.

A spokesman for ISRO could not immediately be reached for comment.

Agence France-Presse