Having earned its place in the elite club of space-faring tions, India has been setting the benchmark in low cost space missions. On Monday, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) crossed another milestone by launching a reusable space shuttle. The RLV-TD (Reusable Launch Vehicle — Technology Development) blasted off from Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh, crossed the atmosphere to go into space, then turned back and splashed down at the desigted spot 450 km away in the Bay of Bengal. As a technology demonstrator, it came cheap at just Rs 95 crore and took five years to materialize from the drawing board. This is highly economic, considering how prohibitively expensive space programmes can be. ISRO’s Mars Orbiter Mission in 2013 cost only 78 million dollars (around Rs 525.7 crore); in contrast, SA’s Mars Mission cost ten times more. And now in a completely indigenous effort, ISRO has launched its experimental space shuttle successfully at the first try. The mission went off like clockwork with a rocket boosting the aircraft-shaped RLV-TD 65-70 km high above the Earth in sub-orbital space; thrusters were then activated to vigate the vehicle along its planned trajectory with hypersonic speed; the most critical phase of re-entry into the atmosphere was well negotiated with the vehicle maging to survive the extreme temperatures. It was expected to land like a plane on a ‘virtual runway’ charted on the Bay of Bengal surface; reportedly, it did so and was not destroyed on impact. India has thus become the fifth tion after USA, Russia, France and Japan to successfully launch a space shuttle. This is a baby step however, with the prototype RLV serving as a ‘flying test bed’ to check out all the technologies that will be needed. Two more such prototypes with additiol features will be launched for other tests before the full-fledged version, which will be six times larger, goes up in 10-15 years. So why is the ISRO going ahead with reusable launch vehicle technology when the USA wound up its space shuttle programme five years ago? In three decades from 1981 to 2011, the SA flew 135 missions with five fully functiol shuttles, losing two shuttles Challenger and Columbia, along with 14 astrouts including Kalpa Chawla. It turns out that ISRO scientists want to adopt space shuttles to reduce the cost of launching satellites into polar and geo-statiory orbits. They believe it will be 8-10 times cheaper to launch satellites with reusable vehicles going up like rockets and coming down like planes. So it all boils down to questions of economy again. Indian space scientists are not only making forays into space on their own steam, they are commendably making every rupee count in the journey.