India's Mars mission successful on 1st attempt, history made

India's Mars mission successful on 1st attempt, history made

Scripting space history, India today successfully placed its low-cost Mars spacecraft in orbit around the red planet in its very first attempt, breaking into an elite club of three nations.

The Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) spacecraft kept its tryst with the red planet after the hibernating main 440 Newton Liquid Apogee Motor (LAM) and eight thrusters on board were ignited for 24-minutes from 7.17 am that slowed its benumbing speed to be smoothly captured into the Martian orbit.

The make-or-break tricky manoeuvre carried out with clockwork precision on the refrigerator sized spacecraft as planned was watched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who exultantly described it as "a historic occasion", saying the country has achieved the "near impossible".

"Today MOM has met Mangal (Mars). Today Mangal has got MOM. The time this mission was short named as MOM, I was sure that MOM won't disappoint us," Modi said, declaring the mission's success after nerve-wracking final moments at Indian Space Research Organisation's command centre here.

The speed of the spacecraft was reduced from 22.14 km per second to 4.4 km per second at the ultimate point in its 666 million-km-long travel in relation to the red planet to be captured by the Martian orbit.

"Images are clicked. Data is downloaded. Process is going on," a top ISRO official said in the evening when asked whether the spacecraft has taken pictures of the Mars surface.

The Rs 450-crore MOM Mangalyaan is the cheapest inter- planetary mission that, at just USD 74 million, costs less than the estimated USD 100 million budget of the sci-fi blockbuster "Gravity" and a tenth of NASA's Mars mission Maven that entered the Martian orbit on September 22.

Scientists broke into wild cheers and congratulated each other after the 1,350 kg spacecraft was manoeuvred into its designated place, a feat that makes India the first country to go to Mars in the very first try.

European, American and Russian probes have managed to orbit or land on the planet, but after several attempts. The first Chinese Mars mission, called Yinghuo-1, failed in 2011. In 1998, the Japanese mission ran out of fuel and was lost.

Modi, who wore a red jacket, said the odds were stacked against "us with only 21 of the 51 missions to Mars being successful," but "we have prevailed". "We have gone beyond the boundaries of human enterprise and innovation.

"We have navigated our craft through a route known to very few," Modi said in a speech in Hindi and English, after patting the back of ISRO Chairman K Radhakrishnan and effusively praising ISRO for making space history.


"I have said it in the past too, the amount our scientists have spent on this mission is even less than what they spend in making Hollywood movies," Modi said in his address to the mission scientists.

MOM aims to study Mars' surface and mineral composition, and scan its atmosphere for methane, an indicator of life in Mars.

Given the high rate of failures -- only 21 of the total of 51 missions sent to Mars by various countries being successful, the MOM feat has given a boost to India's global standing in space, even as it beat its Asian space rivals, Japan and China.
With the success of 'Mangalyaan', India also becomes the first Asian country to have sent a mission to the red planet.

Mars Orbiter Insertion was carried out automatically by commands loaded onto the spacecraft. The spacecraft had entered the Martian neighbourhood on Monday.

At the time of MOM's orbital insertion, its signals took about 12 minutes and 28 seconds to reach Earth where it was received by NASA's Deep Space Network Stations in Canberra and Goldstone which relayed the data in real time to ISRO's station in Bangalore.

The first sign of success on the very last leg came when ISRO announced that the burn of engines on India's Mars orbiter had been confirmed.

"All engines of Mars orbiter are going strong. Burn confirmed," ISRO said as it signalled history in the making. Igniting the main engine was critical as it had been lying dormant for about 300 days and was only woken up briefly for four seconds on Monday. A failure could have pushed the Orbiter into the deep depths of space.

Much of the spacecraft's manoeuvre took place behind Mars as seen from Earth. That means that from a point four minutes into the burn being employed till three minutes after the scheduled end of the manoeuvre, teams on Earth had no view of the spacecraft's progress.

The Orbiter will keep moving in an elliptical path for at least six months with its instruments sending their gleanings back home. The 1,350 kg spacecraft is equipped with five instruments, including a sensor to track methane or marsh gas, a colour camera and a thermal imaging spectrometer to map the surface and mineral wealth of the red planet.

The spacecraft was launched on its nine-month-long odyssey on a homegrown PSLV rocket from Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh on November 5 last year. It had escaped the earth's gravitational field on December 1.

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