Mission accomplished: India joins Mars explorers
NEW DELHI : India triumphed in its first interplanetary mission, placing a satellite into orbit around Mars on Wednesday and catapulting the country into an elite club of deep-space explorers.
In scenes broadcast live on Indian TV, scientists broke into wild cheers as the orbiter’s engines completed 24 minutes of burn time to maneuver the spacecraft into its designated place around the red planet.
“We have gone beyond the boundaries of human enterprise and innovation,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in a live broadcast from the Indian Space and Research Organization’s command center in the southern tech hub of Bangalore.
“We have navigated our craft through a route known to very few,” Modi said, congratulating the scientists and “all my fellow Indians on this historic occasion.”
Scientists described the final stages of the Mars Orbiter Mission, affectionately nicknamed MOM, as flawless. The success marks a milestone for the space program in demonstrating that it can conduct complex missions and act as a global launch pad for commercial, navigational and research satellites.
Reaching the fourth planet from the sun is a major feat for the developing country of 1.2 billion people, most of whom are poor. At the same time, India has a robust scientific and technical educational system that has produced millions of software programmers, engineers and doctors.
India describes MOM as the first successful Mars mission on a maiden attempt by any country, although the European Space Agency, a consortium of several nations, also did it on its first Mars mission in 2003.
Rival China is also expanding its space exploration program with a space lab that is in orbit before a future permanent space station is established. It also landed a rover on the moon late last year, but has not sent a satellite to Mars.
Astronomy students who gathered at the Nehru Planetarium in New Delhi for Mars-themed learning activities and games were elated by the mission’s success.
“I am proud to be born in a country that can do anything and succeed,” said Kashish, 12, who uses only one name.
Another 12-year-old, Mansha Khanna, said she was so inspired she wanted to become “a scientist or an astronaut, and do research about other planets.”
Getting a spaceship successfully into orbit around Mars is no easy task. More than half the world’s previous attempts — 23 out of 41 missions — have failed. India wanted this spacecraft, also called Mangalyaan, meaning “Mars craft” in Hindi, to be a global advertisement for its ability in designing, planning and managing a difficult, deep-space mission.
India has already conducted dozens of successful satellite launches, including sending up the Chandrayaan-1 lunar orbiter, which discovered key evidence of water on the moon in 2008. And it plans new scientific missions, including putting a rover on the moon.
But India “is likely to be somewhat limited because we can’t afford to spend that much money in pure science exploration and in an exercise of the imagination,” said D. Raghunandan of the Delhi Science Forum, a group that promotes the study of science.