Curiosity and The Problem of Research in Indonesia

It was November 16th, 2011 when The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) launched their Mars expedition, called Curiosity.  Travelled 350 million miles away from the earth, Curiosity’s assignment is to “investigate whether conditions have been favorable for microbial life and for preserving clues in the rocks about possible past life.”

Around US$2.5 billion (equal to IDR 25 trillion) have been spent for the mission. It was only a chunk of spending over a period of eight years mission including the cost over the next 23 months while Curiosity is exploring Mars. Now, we must be wondering, why did they spend such an unreasonable spending?  NASA states: “The ancillary benefits of the space program (are) its ability to stimulate the economy; its applications to the solutions of earthbound problems; its contributions to international cooperation; and its creation of tens of thousands of jobs for our highly skilled scientists, engineers and technicians.”


Some of our most important technological advancements have been the result of U.S. space exploration. In his 2012 book “Space Chronicles,” astrophysicist Neil Tyson lists a host of technologies that can be attributed to space exploration, including (but not limited to) kidney dialysis machines, aircraft collision-avoidance systems, LASIK eye surgery, GPS, hydroponic systems for growing plants, digital imaging, cordless power tools and athletic shoes.

If we spent the same amount on advancing technology (The $2.5 billion averages out at about $312 million per year for 8 years mission), every person in Indonesia would have paid only $1.3 or around IDR 16,000 a year. If we consider about the advantage of the cost that we have to pay, it will be worth it, uh? Even, we have to spend more money (around $2) to watch a movie in a theater.

N250 Gathotkaca which once took off

Somehow in the past, our nation would has a pride in advancing technology. B.J. Habibie was once The Minister of Research and Technology when he began the notion of national pride in the field of technology. He began the establishment of aircraft, marine, and weapon industries. At that moment, it seemed that we were very close to our dream. The dream of having sophisticated technologies made by our own. On August 10th, 1995, National Aircraft Industries (IPTN) succeeded to develop and build the first ever commercial aircraft which was engineered by our local engineer. The airplane was named after the legend figure of Mahabharata, Gatotkaca. It was a blast and a pride to us, Indonesian, a message to the whole world. Meanwhile, they were also developing the  wide body aircraft, N 2130.


Unfortunately, a monetary crisis hit Indonesia in the range of 1997-1998. Soeharto, the president at that time, ultimately signed the Letter of Intent with the IMF. One of the agreements was to end giving fund and loan to the aircraft projects. They considered that the cost for the project has been a waste of Indonesian reserve fund. As its consequence, IPTN, which is currently reborn as P.T. Dirgantara Indonesia, collapsed. It wasn’t really a happy ending of the Gathotkaca story.

Indonesia, the country with no long term vision?

In Indonesia, Technology is still considered as a redheaded stepchild. It’s not due to the lack of our highly skilled scientists or engineers or even technicians who are capable to develop our own technology. It’s about the mindset. The mindset of short term profit, the mindset of “sow the seed today, harvest it tomorrow”. Research obviously costs too much and sometimes comes up with indistinct results.

Investing in research based industry or business is not that easy. It has many obstacles. Moreover, It’s often costly. It also needs persistence, dedication, relentless effort, and so on. Only the people or government who have the vision to the future advancements who are willing to do this. They don’t solely think about the short time advantages.

Meanwhile, on the State Budget in 2014, government spending was set at IDR 1,816 trillion which about 86% were spent to routine expenditure including 54% to the salary for the civil servants. It means, only 14% were used for the people’s welfare including health, education, all kind of infrastructures, research and development.

According to the former Minister of Research and Technology, Gusti Muhammad Hatta, the budget allocation for research is only about IDR 10 trillion or about 0.6% of the budget. He explained, with the research budget which is also equal to only 0.09%  of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), it’s necessary to find another way to fund our potential research. For comparison, Singapore has 2.6% allocation of the GDP, Japan has 3.4%, South Korea and Malaysia have respectively 3.6% and 0.8%.

We need a change!

As long as our government keeps the pragmatic thinking, we will be still behind the track. Indonesia will remain as a country with technological dependence. As a nation with an enormous potential of natural and human resources, this dependency is thoroughly not a good thing. We won’t be able to manage and process our own natural resources. We won’t be able to create a decent job for our highly skilled scientists, engineers and technicians. we definitely need a change! Not only from the government, but also from all of the nation. This is our collective problem.


  1. Folger, Jean. “Why Curiosity Cost $2.5 Billion” Investopedia, LLC, September 05, 2012.
  2. Anonymous. “Penduduk Indonesia menurut Provinsi” Central Agency on Statistics, 2010.
  3. Anonymous. “Nota Keuangan dan Anggaran Pendapatan dan Belanja Negara, Tahun Anggaran 2014”. Ministry of Finance of the Republic of Indonesia, 2014.
  4. Anonymous. “Gross Domestic Product” . The World Bank , 2013.
  5. Setiawan, Agus. “Curhat Menristek: Anggaran Penelitian di RI Kecil Dibanding Negara Tetangga” Transcorp, March 27, 2014.

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