For less than it cost to make the movie “Gravity”, India built and flew a probe to Mars. AND they did it on their first attempt to reach the planet. About half of all probes sent to Mars have either crashed or gone off course. The planet’s known for its bad mojo.
India’s maiden Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) to the Red Planet achieved orbit Wednesday, making it only the fourth country to successfully reach the Red Planet. The U.S., Europe and former Soviet Union have all sent probes to the planet beginning in the early 1960s.
MOM (Mars Orbiter Mission) now joins one European and three U.S. orbiters in a globe-encircling net of unblinking eyes on the Martian landscape and atmosphere below. You’ll recall the NASA’s MAVEN atmospheric probe only arrived last Sunday. It’s still in the checkout and orbit-shaping phase. In a few weeks, MAVEN will begin “tasting” the Martian air looking for clues of the planet’s missing water and thicker atmosphere it once possessed in abundance more than 3 billion years ago.
India’s total mission cost came to $74 million dollars, some $26 million less than the estimated price to film “Gravity”. MAVEN came in at $671 million, nearly 10 times as much.
Despite the Indian Space Research Organization’s frugality, critics in the home country have complained that the money could be better spent on feeding the poor and other projects. At the same time, the Indian people must feel justly proud today for this amazing accomplishment.
Indeed, that’s part of the mission’s purpose – to demonstrate that the county has developed technological prowess in the field of space exploration. All the instruments on board were built in India, including the cameras to photograph and map the surface, sensors to detect methane (an organic compound found in small quantities on Mars that may or may not be connected to potential microbes) and spectrometers to map minerals on the surface.
The Mars Orbiter Mission, also known informally as Mangalyaan after the Sanskrit words “Mangala” for Mars and “yana” for craft. MOM will orbit and study Mars for about six months until it runs out of fuel it needs to maintain orbit.
The folks behind the Twitter feed for MOM post updates with a light touch as you can tell from the probe’s first-person conversational style. This people-friendly approach is a great way to involve everyone in the mission. NASA does it too. Matter of fact, when MOM entered orbit, Curiosity tweeted: “Namaste! (Hindi for “greetings) Congratulations to @ISRO and India’s first interplanetary mission upon achieving Mars orbit.”