An Indian space probe has successfully entered Mars’ orbit, marking the first interplanetary mission for the country.
Scientists broke into wild cheers Wednesday morning local time as the orbiter’s engines completed 24 minutes of burn time and maneuvered into its designated place around the red planet.
The success of India’s Mars Orbiter Mission, affectionately nicknamed MOM, brings India into an elite club of Martian explorers that includes United States, the European Space Agency and the former Soviet Union.
The Indian Space and Research Organisation described the mission as flawless.
“We have gone beyond the boundaries of human enterprise and innovation,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, standing alongside ISRO scientists at the command center in the southern tech hub of Bangalore. “We have navigated our craft through a route known to very few.”
India is the first country to reach Mars’ orbit on a maiden venture and the first Asian country to launch a successful Mars mission, all with a much cheaper price tag than any Mars mission before it.
NASA congratulated the ISRO for the successful mission on Twitter.
The ISRO launched the small unmanned satellite Mangalyaan (Hindi for “Mars craft”) in November of last year. The probe has spent the last 300 days journeying more than 420 million miles between Earth and the red planet at a speed of 13.7 miles per second.
The mission’s success was not guaranteed. If the onboard rocket engine did not slow the satellite to just the right speed, it could have either careened off into space or crashed down to the planet’s surface, wrote science writer Pallava Bagla in an article for BBC News.
Only about 42% of the 51 probes sent to Mars since 1960 have completed the mission Only about 42% of the 51 probes sent to Mars since 1960 have completed the mission, Bagla said.
The probe is expected to use five tools to map the planet’s surface and search for signs of life, including a color camera, a methane sensor and a thermal imaging spectrometer. To cut down on costs, the probe has a relatively small payload and used a smaller-than-average rocket engine to break into Earth’s orbit.
In June, India’s prime minister Narendra Modi claimed that, at a cost of just $74 million, the Mars Orbiter Mission was less expensive than production of the Oscar-winning science fiction film “Gravity,” which cost a reported $100 million to make. For comparison, NASA’s most recent Mars probe, Maven, which made orbit on Sunday, ran up a cost of about $671 million and the European Space Agency’s 2003 mission’s price tag was roughly $386 million.
India’s space agency has honed its ability to make do with limited resources over the years out of “sheer necessity,” according to the Wall Street Journal. In addition to operating on a comparatively paltry budget, many international agencies refused to share expertise with ISRO’s scientists after the country began conducting nuclear weapons tests.
While some critics question whether a nation that is home to a third of the world’s poorest people should be spending roughly a billion dollars per year on space exploration, India counters that the program drives innovation and fuels employment in the country. Modi hopes the mission will help establish India as the world leader in cheap space exploration.
~ Source: http://mashable.com/