India has nailed its first foray into interplanetary travel. Wednesday morning local time, scientists announced that their Mangalyaan – Hindi for "Mars Craft" – had entered Mars orbit after completing the 400-million-mile arc to Mars it began last November. It will now set about collecting imagery and data that might shed light on the still mysterious red planet.
Indian Space Research Organisation's Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) spacecraft started orbiting the red planet at 7.47am, but it was only 12 minutes later —because of a time delay in radio signals travelling the 680 million km — that scientists at Isro Telemetry, Tracking and Command Network in Bangalore, could erupt in joy as Prime Minister Narendra Modi stood a happy witness.
For most of the time the main engine was firing — 20 of the 24 crucial minutes — MOM was hiding behind Mars, adding to the suspense.
The scientists had waited for more than 300 days as MOM journeyed on through space, but the last 54 minutes were virtually unbearable. For, it was during this period that the orbiter first reoriented itself and then fired its engine and thrusters for about 24 minutes to get into the Mars orbit.
For all the action at the ground station, there was not much the scientists had to do. More than 10 days ago, they had uplinked all the commands for the manoeuvres to the spacecraft. MOM, like an obedient child, carried them out perfectly.
MOM, as the Mission Orbiter Mars is affectionately known, cost India approximately $70 million which makes it the thriftiest mission to Mars yet and, as Prime Minister Narendra Modi has taken to pointing out, cheaper than producing the movie Gravity.
With this success, India joins an elite league of Martian explorers that includes United States, the European Space Agency and the former Soviet Union. But more valuably, India has proven it can conduct complex missions and act as a global launch pad for commercial, navigational and research satellites.
"History has been created today, we have dared to reach out into the unknown and have achieved the near impossible," PM Modi said. "We have gone beyond the boundaries of human enterprise and imagination. We have navigated our spacecraft through a route known to very few."
[Photo Credit: AP Images]