Curious Bends – Mars Orbiter, friendly elephants, waterless urinals and more

Special look: India’s Mars Orbiter Mission

1. One small step for India may become a big step for humanity

“Martin Rees, the British Astronomer Royal, expects that humans will have settlements on Mars within two centuries. But he is not sure if Western countries can achieve this. It will need the determination of nations such as India and China. Or, perhaps like the International Space Station, it will have to be a global collaboration where each country brings in expertise and money to build a sustainable colony beyond Earth.” (4 min read)

2. India’s Mars Orbiter has made it to the top, but is it a one-hit wonder?

“Even if it has launched a spacecraft to Mars, the payload limit and the lack of an inclusive scientific agenda still stand in the way of taking full advantage of scientific interest and infrastructure on the ground. Going ahead, untying this knot is what will keep from reducing MOM’s achievement to an exhibition of ego rather than scientific temperament.” (4 min read)

3. No room for jugaad on Mars

“ISRO built a top-class launch vehicle and payload, and we should not cheapen its success by harping on any number. India’s space programme is a testament to a culture of tackling hard challenges because they are hard, not because they are easy. Of doing the best, and not the cheapest. Jugaad in India was born as a necessity in impoverished conditions, and instead of elevating it to godhood we should be trying to escape a culture of jugaad as quickly as possible. ISRO is showing us the way.” (4 min read)

In other news

1. Elephants can learn to live with humans, and a Darwinian explanation might not suffice

When forest officials dug a protective trench around a reserve in South India, an elephant named Bharathan took to the highway, scared off a guard and carefully stepped around a checkpost. In another instance, Bharathan waited for a local jackfruit vendor to take a break before raiding his stock. His stories regale local villagers. However, his behaviour has left both biologists and anthropologists scrambling for an explanation. (8 min read)

2. Exploit urinals for cheap fertilisers, says Indian inventor

Human urine contains three nutrients essential for plant growth: phosphorous, potassium and nitrogen. According to an Indian inventor, each person produces four to five kilograms of these nutrients annually. He believes that is reason enough to replace modern “flush and forget” sanitation systems with waterless urinals that he has designed. They separate, store and transport these elements for use in fertilisers. (3 min read)

3. Monsanto is expanding its offerings in India but will farmers trust it?

Monsanto, the “agri-tech company the world loves to hate”, is moving into a market that Indian farmers could do with. It plans to offer them an integrated suite of services, especially merging agriculture and Big Data to provide remote sensing, modelling and marketing options to growers. However, whether its services will sell is another question because of two concerns. One: Monsanto’s reputation in India is bad at best. Two: India’s data-protection laws are virtually non-existent. (4 min read)

Chart of the week

One in every nine persons in the world goes hungry, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation. It estimates that since 1990, the number of hungry people globally has declined by over 200 million, helping the world meet one of its Millennium Development Goals. However, the unevenness of progress means food security is increasingly dependent on political will. The biggest strides have been taken in Southeast Asia, East Asia and Latin America; the smallest, in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. Down To Earth has more.


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