Tuesday, 5 November 2013

India Mars mission vs UK aircraft carriers

21st century contrasts on an otherwise ordinary November 5, 2013

At the Satish Dhawan Space Center on India's southeastern coast, India’s first mission to Mars successfully launched. A rocket lofted a satellite into Earth orbit on the first stage of a voyage that, if everything goes according to plan, will reach Mars orbit in 2014. Cheers erupted against the background of India moving up the technological and power ladder. Even if something goes wrong over the voyage’s next 300 days or so, India has achieved a milestone.

In the UK, there are reasons to celebrate too. Firework displays are to be watched everywhere, as November 5 marks the annual Guy Fawkes bonfire night. After the fireworks extinguish, however, it will be difficult to ignore the drama that building two new aircraft carriers has become. About six years ago, when the contract with the Aircraft Carrier Alliance was eventually approved, the costs of building them were estimated at about £3.65 billion. Leaving aside design failures and delays, the usual post-tender drama associated with any infrastructure project in the UK, the costs are now estimated at about £6.2 billion. Off course a multi-million enquiry on the issue will follow and its conclusions will be, “lessons have been learnt.” Please expect further delays and the totals costs for the two carriers, the HMS Queen Elizabeth and the HMS Prince of Wales, to be even higher, and a few more lessons to be learnt as a consequence. Add to the music other cheerful news announced this same day. For example, BAE Systems is likely to cut hundreds of jobs, around 1,000 mentioned, at its UK shipyards in Glasgow and Portsmouth. Indeed, economic stagnation has a heavy price attached.

Riches and poverty, technological might versus technological aspiration, vociferous rhetoric versus unassuming pragmatism, success and failure; these are some of the qualities setting the two stories apart. Yet, on this otherwise ordinary November 5, these qualities are no longer easy to associate in the manner accustomed over the previous century. Good luck to India, as a successful mission to Mars is something that all nations, emerging and declining, should cherish.

No comments: