India’s Martian Spacecraft Enters Red Planet’s Orbit

Prime Minister Modi adressing from ISRO's Telemetry, Tracking and Command Network (ISTRAC).

Mangalyaan will remain in orbit around Mars, sending back information about Martian weather and methane levels in its atmosphere.

Today, India’s Mars Orbiter Mission arrived at its destination and successfully entered the planet’s orbit. Prime Minister Narendra Modi was present at the Indian Space Research Organization‘s command center in Bangalore for the event this morning, and declared it “a shining symbol of what we are capable of as a nation.” The space mission was conceived as a chance to prove India could succeed in a highly technical endeavour, and that it could also do so with a relatively small budget.

The total cost of the mission was $74 million- which, compared to NASA’s own $671 million trip to Mars (albeit a more complex operation), is much cheaper. The Indian Space Research Organization has always had a small budget, and worked for years in international isolation after the country’s nuclear tests wrought many sanctions regarding technological sharing programs. Since 1975, the organization has launched more than 50 satellites, including five foreign satellites in one June launch. Its low-budget affair has entered the spotlight as other countries have begun to rethink the cost of their respective space programs.

India’s decision to launch its Mangalyaan spacecraft was the result of China’s own failed mission to Mars back in 2012. In just a few months, they planned a mission to insert a 33-pound payload of sensory instruments into Mars’ orbit. The operation was centered around a small rocket, a modest 3,000-pound spacecraft, and a plan to slingshot around the Earth in order to achieve the speed needed to reach its destination. Since its launch last November, the mission has encountered no complications.

To celebrate the historic occasion, children across India were asked to come to school by 6:45 a.m. Wednesday (well before the usual starting time) to watch the event on state television. “The odds were stacked against us,” Prime Minister Modi said in a televised news conference. “When you are trying to do something that has not been attempted before, it is a leap into the unknown. And space is indeed the biggest unknown out there.”

Source: New York Times

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