Now that India’s spacecraft has reached Mars’ orbit, it is the first time an Asian nation has accomplished such a goal. Even more impressive, this is the first nation in the world to have reached Mars on a first attempt.
The spacecraft called Mangalyaan, which translates in Hindi as “Mars-Craft”, launched last November. At the time of launch, the spacecraft weighed 1.337 tons but after launch and firing, it weighed 0.55 tons. After slowing down, it finally reached the orbit earlier today. As a result, India has firmly secured a place in the elite global club of space explorers.
As news reached scientists back on Earth at the command center in Bangalore, the room erupted with hugging and clapping. Just one hour after reaching the orbit, the first live images were received via an antenna located in Australia and then televised nationally as other countries offered congratulations and support.
The photographic data showed rough red terrain of Mars, supporting images from expeditions conducted by other countries. The Indian Space Research Organization immediately took to Twitter and Facebook, stating that having reached the orbit is a national pride event. Television stations in India called the news “India’s big leap” and “India’s date with the red planet”.
India received a personal tweet of congratulations from NASA for the “Mars arrival”. Narendra Modi, prime minister of India, wore a symbolic red vest and had the opportunity to witness the final insertion of the Mission Orbiter Mars (MOM). He stated that Mars has found MOM today. He added when the mission received the acronym MOM, he was convinced of success because mom never disappoints.
With great pride, Modi announced that India is the only country in the world to have successfully reached the red planet on a first attempt. According to officials at the space agency, teams of scientists have been working 12 hours a day for the past two months trying to come up with every possible problem and then determining the right course of action prior to issues actually arising.
To prevent communication breakdown, MOM was created with built-in intelligence, a standby control system, and autonomy as pointed out by M. Pitchaimani, deputy director of the Indian Space Research Organization’s control center.
He adds that this success was only possible because the failures of others were studied intensely. By understanding why past attempts failed, Indian scientists were able to make necessary adjustments. Scientists also gained knowledge from other country’s accumulated efforts and successes.
More than 50% of the 51 missions to reach Mars failed and while the United States, Europe, and Russia have made it to the orbit, only India did it on the first try. In addition, India’s mission cost far less than the $2 billion to get the Curiosity Rover to Mars and the $670 spent by NASA for Maven, which reached the orbit this past Sunday.
In all, India spent $72 million, making this the least expensive interplanetary mission in history. Sandip Bhattacharya, assistant director of BM Birla Planetarium in Jaipur, stated in an interview that they worked to keep the cost down but technology up. However, the ultimate goal of reaching Mars’ orbit was to gather scientific data and get some good pictures.
This success gives scientists leverage when planning newer missions to Mars, allowing them to take a more aggressive stance, have bigger exploration goals, and achieve higher payload. In the next six months, Mangalyaan plans to study mineral composition on Mars but also try to identify the presence methane, which is a chemical essential for life on Earth.
Bhattacharya closed the interview by saying that the success of India’s space program symbolizes what the country is capable of and that boundaries need to be pushed and then pushed some more!