by Jasmine Hernandez
Current Affairs Editor
We have blast off! India aims to be fourth country to go to Mars and has now launched its first spacecraft into orbit. Mangalyaan began its voyage on November 5 at 4:08 a.m. EST with a main goal to obtain a better understanding of the Red Planet’s atmosphere.
India’s Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) successfully entered Earth’s orbit using its own Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV). The 3,000-pound orbiter Mangalyaan, which means “Mars craft” in Hindi, launched from a facility in Sriharikota and must now travel 485 million miles over 300 days. The satellite will circulate Earth’s orbit for 25 days and on November 30th will use our planets gravitational pull to help sling itself toward Mars. It will then stay on course for a little under a year.
“The biggest challenge will be precisely navigating the spacecraft to Mars,” said Koppillil Radhakrishnan, chairman of the The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO.) “We will know if we pass our examination on Sept. 24, 2014,” which is the estimated arrival date for the Mars orbiter. But there is no way to assure that this mars mission will be 100% successful. During a live broadcast of the launch, K. Radhakrishnan added, “For Mars, there were 51 missions so far around the world and there were 21 successful missions.”
ISRO, the agency behind the successful launch, hopes to discover more about the missing body of water that has been said to be on Mars, map the sources of methane gas, and collect data about the two moons Phobos and Deimos.
Once in Mars’ orbit, Mangalyaan will have six months to gather as much information as possible about the planet. To do so it has been equipped with a multi color imager and a methane gas sensor to study the Red Planet’s atmosphere, morphology, mineralogy, weather and surface features. The Mangalyaan orbiter has been fully supplied with the proper equipment to analyze the Red Planet and hopefully gather enough evidence needed for their space programs research.
Although most have supported India’s $1 billion space program for providing high-tech jobs for scientists and engineers, there is still some skepticism on how a country of 1.2 billion people still dealing with widespread hunger and poverty can afford a $72 million mission to Mars. But compared to the US, the ISROs annual budget of $1.1 billion is one-17th of NASA’s. “India’s space program has always given the biggest bang for the buck,” said Susmita Mohanty, co-founder and chief executive of Mumbai’s Earth2Orbit, India’s first private space enterprise start-up. NASA’s Maven, which is also due to launch this month, is said to be ten times more costly than the Mangalyaan.
India is a country proving that a low-cost space exploration is not to be underestimated. If the Mangalyaan is successful in its mission, the ISRO will be glad to be numbered among the ranks of the Soviet space program, NASA, and European Space Agency.