News / Science & Technology

India Prepares for Mars Mission

A paramilitary soldier walks past the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV-C25) at the Satish Dhawan Space Center at Sriharikota, in the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, Oct. 30, 2013.
A paramilitary soldier walks past the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV-C25) at the Satish Dhawan Space Center at Sriharikota, in the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, Oct. 30, 2013.
Anjana Pasricha
India will launch a spacecraft to Mars on November 5 - an ambitious feat attempted only by a handful of countries. The Red Planet mission marks a major expansion of India’s space program as it tries to emerge on the frontlines of space exploration.    
 
It’s "Destination Mars" on Tuesday. As the day approaches there is a mounting sense of anticipation among scientists at the space station in Sriharikota on India’s east coast from where the unmanned spacecraft will be launched.
 
The Mars Orbiter mission will be the country’s first interplanetary mission. Spokesman of the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), Deviprasad Karnik, said the main challenge is for the spacecraft to successfully enter the Mars orbit by September of next year.
 
“The primary objective is to demonstrate the technical capability of India to reach Mars and then conduct a meaningful science experiment. The whole country is looking forward to it,” Karnik said.
 
That is not surprising. Despite much advancement in space technology, a mission to Mars is still a challenge. Only about one third have been successful.
 
The largest canyon in the Solar System cuts a wide swath across the face of Mars. Photo Credit: Viking Project.The largest canyon in the Solar System cuts a wide swath across the face of Mars. Photo Credit: Viking Project.
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The largest canyon in the Solar System cuts a wide swath across the face of Mars. Photo Credit: Viking Project.
The largest canyon in the Solar System cuts a wide swath across the face of Mars. Photo Credit: Viking Project.
The 1350 kilogram craft equipped with five instruments will study the surface, topography and atmosphere. In particular, it will look for evidence of methane, whose presence can indicate if earth’s closest neighbor has an environment to support life.  
 
If successful, India will be the fourth to survey the planet from up close besides Russia, the United States and the European Space Agency.
 
India’s Mars Orbiter will be launched two weeks before the United States also sends another spacecraft to Mars.
 
India’s program has been put together in a relatively short period - about four years.

Several analysts feel rivalry with the other Asian giant, China, whose space program is ahead of India’s, gave momentum to the mission.
 
Dean Cheng at the Heritage Foundation in Washington said India is taking advantage of an opportunity provided by the failure of China’s first mission to Mars in 2011. 
 
“The failure of the Chinese expedition to Mars I think has given India an opportunity to publicly display its capability and in a sense to play one upmanship with China," Cheng said. "So I think that this particular mission is being moved ahead at this moment in time to make sure that India can show the world that India’s space capabilities are not necessarily that far behind China’s.”
 
Senior Indian scientists however have said they are not in a race with anybody - only with themselves to excel.
 
India’s Mars mission does mark a major expansion of India’s space program as it sets its eyes firmly on space exploration. The first such bid came in 2008 when it sent an unmanned craft to the moon.
 
There has been some criticism of India’s Mars program as an unnecessary extravagance by a country which still needs to do much to improve the life of millions of poor people. For long, India has justified its space program as one which does exactly that by focusing on areas such as weather forecasting and using satellites to beam education programs to remote areas. 
 
A former senior scientist at ISRO, K.R. Sridhara Murthy, hopes the mission will become a stepping stone for more progress. But he added that entering the realm of deep space exploration will hopefully not distract India from these important objectives. 
 
“Certainly there are tremendous needs on the ground which ISRO has to concentrate and find mechanisms of delivery to improve conditions in India and there is lot of potential here…interplanetary missions are good but it cannot be predominant part of India’s program as far as India’s needs are concerned," Murthy said.
 
India points to the relatively modest budget for the mission: $70 million. Officials say that is a fraction of what the U.S. mission will be costing.
 
Dean Cheng said India is willing to commit significant resources to its space program. He said besides technological and scientific objectives, the Mars mission is linked to national prestige and a desire by India to be counted among the world’s up and coming countries.
 
“Assuming that all goes well, India will be joining a very small, very select group," Cheng noted. "This is in a sense India’s coming-out-party if you will, certainly in terms of space exploration.”
 
That is what India will be hoping - that its coming-out-party in space goes off without a hitch.

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Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: muzaffer from: Hyderabad
November 02, 2013 4:11 PM
Should extraterrestrials discover that Indians have reached Mars they will begin a full scale assault on the Earth to save the rest of the universe from being turned into a corrupt Indian slum.
In Response

by: Abdul from: Pakistan
November 03, 2013 12:48 AM
I am a Pakistani and a fool. Please enlighten me about India.

India seems to have made it to the top, both in their economy and science and technology especially with this Mars Mission and earlier Moon mission.

Tell me bhai, why Pakistan is not able to replicate India's success. Is it because we eat too much kabab?

by: Mj from: NY
November 02, 2013 12:36 AM
Best luck India.......

by: Ronak from: Raleigh
November 01, 2013 12:10 PM
Sri Lankans are just jealous lol

by: Dillip
November 01, 2013 6:08 AM
By one estimate, Indians spend over $800m a year on fireworks. And only $70 million for Mars mission !!!

by: Punekar
October 31, 2013 1:34 PM
The most common argument is around the false dichotomy of "Poverty vs. Space". The assumption that space is a luxury meant for "first world" nations is patently rubbish.

Space exploration requires technology innovations in materials sciences, remote sensing, propulsion etc., all of which have huge civilian spin-offs. Today's Indian farmer gets free text feeds about weather changes, irrigation efficiency etc. from ISRO's existing space platforms and ground systems. This feeds more people on the ground.

And ISRO is doing all this for $900 million USD - paltry amount compared to what other nations are spending.

Also national pride is needed to move ahead and these achievements will generate that. Millions of Indian youngsters will be inspired to take on science and technology careers, which will create it's own virtuous circle. We all have to think beyond primitive binaries.

by: Muthuthanthri F from: Sri lanka
October 31, 2013 10:01 AM
Before doing all these , and sending people to moon or sun MAKE TOILETS TO THE CITIZENS
Teach Indians to behave.
In Response

by: Arnav Mohatta from: Mumbai,India
November 03, 2013 1:44 AM
First of all,Indian state of Tamil Nadu is larger than Sr Lanka.Then India is already acknowledged by the world as the 21st century world leader along with China and if Narendra Modi becomes Prime Minister.All of India's problems will get over.Pakistan and Bangladesh and even Sri Lanka will to put to their right place.
In Response

by: Praveen from: Bangalore
November 02, 2013 11:36 PM
There is a lot that Sri Lanka can achieve for its people by doing space research itself. Why not think positively on those lines?

The same applies to all naysayer neighbors of India stuck in a hyper-religious frenzy rather than developing a scientific mindset.
In Response

by: Talking Point from: India
November 01, 2013 3:42 AM
Even without enough toilets , if we are able to send a successful (God willing Inspite of the neighbors' envy) orbiter to Mars, just imagine what we could potentially do when all Indians have access to toilets . As a corollary , inspite of your countrymen have full access to closed toilets , what has your country achieved ?
In Response

by: Jitendra from: Melbourne
October 31, 2013 11:02 PM
Please read the comment by Mr Punekar. Why everything has to boil down to a toilet ? Please clear your mind of that filth. The world is more then that. You need to do several things in parallel. There is no linear sequence to do these things.
In Response

by: Raj from: India
October 31, 2013 11:35 AM
Thanks. That's an amazing suggestion.
We will lay a pipe to Lanka and transport all 'waste' from India.
Look at you before you preach.
In Response

by: LankanTamil from: Pondi
October 31, 2013 10:50 AM
@Muthuthanthri WTF are you taking Indians are not sending people, nor taking moon or sun you Stupid 3rd grade punk! they only sending a satellite to orbit Mars!

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