India Just Became The First Country Ever To Enter Mars' Orbit On Their First Attempt

India Just Became The First Country Ever To Enter Mars' Orbit On Their First Attempt

“To visit another planet is a fantastic thing, the biggest thing.” - Yash Pal, former chairman of India’s University Grants Commission.
India’s first Mars Probe has been met with a healthy dose of skepticism right since its inception last November, what with social media activists taking to their keyboards with shocking frequency to insist that we couldn’t afford to waste money (73.5 million dollars to be precise) on something as frivolous as space exploration when issues closer to home are require much more immediate attention. While their criticism is definitely rooted in an understandable argument, as of this morning, even they might be able to feel a little thrill knowing that our Mars Orbiter Mission successfully entered the red planet’s orbit. In doing so, we’ve officially become the first country to succeed on its first ever Mars mission. Besides joining a very elite group of countries—United States, European Space Agency and the former Soviet Union—in doing so as well. In fact, it’s worth noting that since 1960, more than half of the 40 missions launched to the red planet have failed, which speaks volumes of the sheer potential that exists right here on home turf.

Photo Credit - Walter Myers

The Journey In Numbers

In case you missed the whole story, here’s a little context. It was the Indian Space Research Organization who launched this probe on November 5 2013 at 4:08AM EST from a pad at the agency’s Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota, in the hopes that it would demonstrate and advance technologies for space travel. The space shuttle titled ‘Mangalyaan’ meaning ‘Mars Craft’ in Hindi, weighs 1.3 tonnes and had to travel for over 300 days to reach its destination which was, needless to say, easier said than done. It is predicted to have at least 6 months to investigate Mars’ landscape and atmosphere and is expected to be 227 miles away from the planet’s surface at its closest point, and nearly 50000 miles away at its furthest.

Infographic Courtesy -

The Journey In Technology & Discovery

As we discovered via, “The Mangalyaan spacecraft will launch toward Mars atop an enhanced version of India’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle rocket. As the centerpiece of India’s Mars Orbiter Mission, the Mangalyaan probe is a 2,976 lb. (1,350 kilogram) spacecraft powered by solar arrays and packed with five instruments to study the surface and atmosphere of Mars. Those instruments include a colour camera for photographic imaging, a spectrometer for surface composition and mineralogy analysis and a methane sensor.”
This methane sensor is particularly anomalous and interesting as it is designed specifically to seek out methane gas in the Martian atmosphere. Methane has been a target of Mars scientists because while it can be created through geologic processes, it can also be a potential sign of microbial life. As such, this is one of the primary focuses of this mission. Aside from methane however, ISRO officials say that the spacecraft is also designed to test technology used for navigation, communication and further interplanetary space travel.
All in all, the spacecraft carries 5 instruments to study the red planet but its primary purpose remains to serve as a technology demonstrator for future Indian interplanetary probes.

Image Credit - wikipedia

The Journey In Subtext

Just after its successful launch almost a year ago, ISRO chairman K. Radhakrishnan famously said, “the journey has only just begun,” indicating that our Space Researchers are only just getting started. This mission comes second to our first lunar probe as part of the Chandrayaan 1 moon orbiter mission, which helped detect evidence of water ice on the lunar surface. Currently, the ISRO is also developing Chandrayaan 2, a follow-up mission, to continue its lunar exploration.
While it’s true that the price tag on this mission has been questioned since its start, the Indian government actually hasn’t done a terribly illogical job in rebutting such criticism. They insist, with the backing of several prominent members of the scientific community, that a space programme is incredibly important for providing hi-tech jobs for scientists and engineers, not to mention in uncovering innovative, new solutions to tackle problems on our own planet. This is particularly pertinent given the fact that we have been losing incredible talent to foreign scientific institutions for years, best supported by the fact that over 36% of NASA scientists are actually Indians. Not to mention several conspiracy theories that discuss foreign agencies’ attempts to thwart both our space and nuclear programs over the years.
Moreover, space research has helped India develop satellite technologies that are consistently solving common problems at home right from predicting weather changes to helping guide fisherman towards the best spots for fishing.

The launch of the Indian spacecraft. Image courtesy -

It’s also important to note that India has managed to not only launch a successful mission on its first attempt but it done so within a budget that’s less than a 3rd of most of the others before it. In fact, NASA’s Maven mission to Mars probe that was launched just a few weeks post ours, also designed to study the Martian atmosphere in detail, cost approximately 671 million dollars, over 8 times our budget! This also explains the resonating sentiment amongst experts that believes this mission is more of a showcase of India’s low budget space exploration capabilities—a strategic effort to cut itself a bigger share of the 324 billion dollar global capital spent on space exploration each year.
Conclusively, Yash Pal, former chairman of India’s University Grants Commission, summed it up rather well when he told the Associated press that “If you can afford airplanes and war machines, you can certainly spend something to fulfil the dreams of young people.” Whichever side of the debate you might fall on, it’s clear that we’re at the cusp of a truly thrilling time as far as scientific exploration is concerned. And as always, it comes at a time when a little pride in our own motherland couldn’t hurt.
[India’s Mars escapades hardly end here. Click here to learn more about how a few select Indians might actually be given the opportunity to live on Mars.]