NEW DELHI - India successfully placed a spacecraft into orbit around Mars, making it the first country to reach the Red Planet in its first attempt. The low-cost, inter-planetary mission puts the spotlight on India’s growing ambitions in space exploration and its homegrown technology.
Scientists of the Indian Space Research Organization erupted into cheers, shook hands and beamed as the Indian spacecraft entered Mars orbit early Wednesday.
Before that moment of triumph came, they watched for a tense hour from the mission center in Bangalore as the 1,350 kilogram spacecraft went through a critical maneuver - reorienting its trajectory and firing the engine of the spacecraft for about 24 minutes to slow it down so that it could be captured by Mars orbit.
The scientists called it a “dream come true.” They were joined by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who congratulated the nation.
He noted proudly that India has become the first country to reach Mars in its maiden attempt although the odds were stacked against it; more than half the missions to Mars having failed.
“History has been created today. We have dared to reach out into the unknown and have achieved the near impossible,” said Modi.
Mangalyaan, Hindi for “Mars Craft,” began its 670 million-kilometer journey to the Red Planet 10 months ago.
India has dubbed the ambitious project a technology demonstrator - showcasing the nation’s ability to conduct an interplanetary mission put together by its own scientists. India is in a unique group to have had a space mission reach Mars, joining the United States, Russia and the European Space Agency.
Space analyst Ajay Lele at the Indian Institute of Defense Studies and Analyses in New Delhi called it a major milestone for India’s space program.
“India without any outside help has achieved this feat and at a very low cost. So it is a demonstration of India’s technological achievement and at the same time cost effective mission… India is supposed to be a developing country and none of the developing countries so far has achieved this feat,” said Lele.
The mission’s approximately $74 million price tag - as Prime Minister Modi has pointed out - is less than the cost of Hollywood blockbuster Galaxy.
Loaded with five instruments, the objectives of India’s Mars mission are modest -- to study the surface of the Red Planet and look for signs of methane, which can give an indication of any form of life.
It is expected to circle Mars for about six months and will send back photos and data.
The Mars mission demonstrates India’s growing ambitions in the sphere of space as it sets its sight on space exploration. So far, the country’s five decade old program has largely concentrated on areas such as weather forecasting and communication.
Prime Minister Modi appears to be backing those ambitions.
“Let today’s success drive us with even greater vigor and conviction. Let us set ourselves even more challenging goals and strive even harder to achieve them. Let us push our boundaries and then push some more,” said Modi.
As the Mars mission puts India in an elite group of space faring nations, some say it could prompt the country to embark on new programs, such as a manned space mission.