The Mars Orbiter Mission, also known as Mangalyaan, is an orbiter to Mars that was successfully launched on November 5 by India’s space agency, the Indian Space Research Organisation. The voyage is planned to help contribute to the growing body of scientific data on the planet, aiming to develop the technologies required for design, planning, management, and operations of an interplanetary mission. The 140 mile trip from Earth will take 11 months to reach its destination.
Manmohan Singh, the Indian Prime Minister, announced the plans for the mission during an address in August 2012, a few months after China’s attempt to send an orbiter on a Russian mission, ended in failure. The plans raised talk of a potential new space race in Asia, but Deviprasad Karnik, a spokesman for the ISRO, assured that the objective of the orbiter is to “showcase technological capability to reach Mars” and collect data.
India’s half-century old space program has long been a source of national pride, but has not been without criticism, with critics wondering why the country spends $74 million on interplanetary travel while much of its population remains poor and unfed.
“It’s a national milestone for the country to conquer territories beyond planet Earth,” said Bharath Gopalaswamy, the deputy director of the South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council. “India has its own ambitions. Just because we’re poor doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have any ambitions. That’s not the way we think about ourselves, right?” Defenders of the program claim that it helped develop satellite technology for India that was used to help those in need, allowing remote areas to receive health care and mapping water resources for wells.
The orbiter was safely and flawlessly launched into its initial Earth orbit and was quickly transitioned to the following stage, a series of thruster firings to raise the orbit around Earth and achieve escape velocity. Barely a day after the takeoff, ISRO engineers successfully completed the first of six orbit raising burns with the liquid fueled thruster. The eventual goal is to gradually maneuver the orbiter into a hyperbolic trajectory so it will escape the Earth’s sphere of influence and arrive at Mars.
However, according to NASA’s director of planetary science, Jim Green, “The track record tells us Mars is very, very hard.” Only sixteen out of forty missions to Mars by various countries have been successful. But if the orbiter successfully arrives in Mars’ orbit by September as scheduled, India will be the fourth nation or group to reach Mars after the United States, Russia, and the European Space Agency.