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India celebrates successful Mars mission

Indian Space Research Organisation scientists and officials cheer as they celebrate the success of Mars Orbiter Mission. Associated Press/Photo by Aijaz Rahi

India celebrates successful Mars mission

India is basking in the world’s praise and congratulations after successfully placing an unmanned space probe in orbit around Mars earlier this week.

The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) is one of four space agencies to achieve the feat. Only the United States, the former Soviet Union and the European Space Agency have successfully sent spacecraft to Mars.

“It was an impressive engineering feat,” said NASA administrator Charles Bolden in a congratulatory statement Wednesday. “We welcome India to the family of nations studying another facet of the Red Planet. We look forward to [its spacecraft] adding to the knowledge the international community is gathering with the other spacecraft at Mars.”

Although the Indian spacecraft contains several scientific instruments that will provide data on the Martian atmosphere, the Indian space agency’s primary goal was to demonstrate its technological prowess, not conduct scientific exploration. The achievement helps advertise India’s satellite launch industry, according to NBC News.

The entire MOM mission was conducted using equipment designed and built in India, including the Polar launch vehicle, at a cost of $74 million. By comparison, NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) mission, which coincidentally entered Mars’ orbit on Sunday, cost $671 million.

The Indian Mars Orbiter mission was also a much higher-risk undertaking than the MAVEN mission. The spacecraft’s main engine, called a Liquid Apogee Motor, sat idle for 295 days after its last burn in earth orbit. It had only one chance to execute its deceleration burn into Martian orbit. Adding to the tension for the mission team, the motor’s ignition took place in the Martian shadow, where the spacecraft was out of contact with earth for 23 minutes.

While the spacecraft is in a highly elliptical orbit around Mars, which brings it as close as 200 miles and as distant as 35,000 miles, the mission team will conduct a series of scientific observations. But most of the mission’s objectives were achieved with Wednesday’s successful orbital insertion. According to the website Spaceflight 101, the Indian space agency hopes to operate its spacecraft for at least 160 days in orbit. But the mission is open-ended and will continue as long as the spacecraft continues to function.

The historic nature of this technological achievement is a huge source of pride in India. Major Indian newspapers ran front-page stories and two-page spreads detailing the mission. Even regional rival Pakistan offered congratulations.

“This is an example of supreme expertise of Indian scientists and technology,” said commentator Taufik Mansoori on the website of the Pakistani newspaper Dawn. “Hats off to you all. We should feel proud as India has broken the superiority of the West in space.”

Indian Prime Minister Narenda Modi, who was with the mission team as the spacecraft entered its Martian orbit, congratulated the scientists and engineers for their achievement and for inspiring future generations.

“Let today’s success drive us with even greater vigor and conviction,” he said. “Let’s set ourselves even more challenging goals—this too must become a base for challenging the next frontier.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Michael Cochrane Michael is a World Journalism Institute graduate and a former WORLD correspondent.

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