Mission on course

It is heartening that India’s Mangalyaan mission has crossed the half-way mark in its space journey and is well on its way to Mars.

The spacecraft, launched by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) on November 5 last year, has traversed 34 crore km of the 68 crore km distance to the red planet and is now racing at 7 lakh km a day.

There is also reassurance in the fact that the country’s biggest space venture after the moon mission is in good health.
 There are no traffic signals and speed breakers in deep space and the spacecraft has to find its way and set its own course in its long journey.
The information is of course built into it but it has to take its own decisions as and when needed, because control becomes more and more difficult when it moves farther and farther from the earth.  To and fro communication takes more than four minutes and there is more monitoring of the Mangalyaan’s course than guidance now. The launch of the spacecraft was a perfect success and the minor glitches which appeared at the initial stages of its course were resolved in time.  Breaking out of the earth’s gravitational field was a major manoeuvre and Mangalyaan is the only one, among other missions  of countries which have attempted a Mars journey, to accomplish it successfully the first time.  Because the spacecraft is performing well now, a trajectory correction which was scheduled for this month may not have to be undertaken.   However, course corrections are required in the coming months before the crucial operation in September when the spacecraft will be moved into the orbit of Mars. ISRO chairman K Radhakrishnan was right to feel that whatever has been accomplished till now by the Mangalyaan mission is itself a milestone in the country’s space programme.
The aim of the mission is to study the surface of Mars, find out its mineral composition and investigate the possibility of the presence of methane gas, which is an indicator of life, in its atmosphere.

But the task of launching the spacecraft and successfully taking it to Mars is itself a major scientific and engineering achievement.
There is much expertise, of which we can be proud, and a lot of hope, which can strengthen us, riding on the mission. It is the half-way moment now, but more than half the challenge is ahead.

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