Mars Orbiter Mission: India’s most ambitious space odyssey

India’s most ambitious space odyssey – the first interplanetary mission to Mars – to reach the orbit of the Red Planet has begun with the country’s workhorse rocket – the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle – lobbing the Mars Orbiter spacecraft successfully into the Earth’s orbit. The sling shot operation, as scheduled 43 minutes after launch, has put the spacecraft on a 300-day journey towards Mars to the first level of fruition.

When it happens in mid-September 2014, India will join the elite club of the world’s deep space pioneers and showcase the country’s technological prowess to explore the Solar System while seeking solutions for everyday problem’s on Earth. India’s ISRO will then be the fourth space agency after the Soviet Union, United States and Europe to try and reach Mars.

“Our mission is a challenging one for it is primarily to demonstrate and prove technology,” said the Indian Space Research Organisation Chairman Koppillil Radhakrishnan. This is India’s first Mars mission, and no country has been fully successful in its first try. More than half the world’s attempts to reach Mars – 23 out of 40 missions – have failed, including missions by Japan in 1999 and China in 2011.

So, the mission begun at the Srikharikota spaceport at 2.38 pm on November 5 can be called an unqualified success only after another nine-and-half months when the spacecraft swings into the Martian orbit.

The Mars Orbiter spacecraft blasting-off from the Sriharikota space port. AP


After it begins to orbit Mars and surveys its geology and atmosphere, instruments aboard MOM will gather data to help determine how Martian weather systems work and what happened to the water that is believed to have once existed on Mars in large quantities. It will also search Mars for methane, a key chemical in life processes on Earth that could also come from geological processes. The data and findings are vital to improve the understanding of how a planet develops geologically, what conditions might make life possible and where else in the universe it might exist.

A successful Mars mission would be a boost for India’s space diplomacy as it has, in the past two decades, begun sharing experiences with other countries. “The Mars Mission could lead to significant international collaborations and debunk the view that India is competing with China,” said the former ISRO chairman Krishnaswamy Kasturirangan.

India Rs.450 crore mission to Mars is intended to survey its geology and atmosphere. This is important as it will help improve understanding why only the Earth is habitable and others are not. “We can make other planets habitable with data from such missions. It will take time, but it is possible to make Mars habitable,” says another ex-ISRO chairman Udipi Ramachandra Rao.

The spacecraft shares some scientific objectives with America’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution mission (MAVEN) which will be launched in a fortnight. Sensors on both spacecraft will examine processes that have drastically thinned the Martian atmosphere, which was one thick enough to allow substantial bodies of liquid water to exist on the Red Planet’s surface.

MAVEN’s principal investigator Bruce Jakosky of the University of Colorado has had some preliminary discussions with the Indian team. The ISRO chief admits that there are some overlapping objectives and there are plans to work together with the data. At another level, the mission to Mars is expected to fire and ignite young minds, according to the Mission to Mars director Kunhikrishnan.

However, the real excitement for Indian scientists, who have had missions to the Moon, begins only at the end of the 300 day journey, possibly September 24, 2013, when India would have crossed the 400 million km barrier. Only then will they steal a march over their Chinese peers, who failed in their effort to launch a small spacecraft called Yinghuo-1, originally scheduled to ride piggyback and separate from Russia’s Phobos-Grunt on reaching the Mars orbit. 


Courtesy:http://indiatoday.intoday.in
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