India Looks To Be Fourth Nation To Launch Mission To Mars
November 5, 2013

Launch Success: India Puts Its Mars Orbiter Mission Into Space

[ Watch the Video: Mars Targeted By India's Space Agency ]

Lawrence LeBlond for - Your Universe Online

UPDATE: Nov 5, 2013 (6:00 a.m.)

India has successfully launched its Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) from the Satish Dhawan Space Center this morning with the aim of becoming only the fourth country to reach the Red Planet. The Mangalyaan probe lifted off at 2:38 p.m. local time after a 56-hour countdown that began Sunday.

The launch went off without a hitch for the ISRO’s workhorse launch vehicle PSLV C25. The launch was witnessed by many including the Minister of State in PMO, V Narayanasamy, US Ambassador to India Nancy Powell and ISRO chairman K Radhakrishnan.

After the successful lift-off, MOM separated from the Polar rocket 44 minutes after launch and was put into a precise elliptical orbit around Earth. Now that the Martian probe is in space, it will remain in Earth’s presence for the next 20-25 days before beginning the nearly 10-month-long journey to the Red Planet. The orbiter is expected to reach Mars’ orbit by September 24, 2014.

Once arriving at the fourth rock from the sun, MOM is scheduled to investigate the planet’s surface and atmosphere for signs of methane, an indicator of life on Mars. It will utilize five scientific instruments on its quest. These include the Lyman Alpha Photometer (LAP), Methane Sensor for Mars (MSM), Mars Exospheric Neutral Composition Analyzer (MENCA), Mars Color Camera (MCC) and Thermal Infrared Imaging Spectrometer (TIS).

If India’s flagship Martian probe does reach the Red Planet, not only will it become just the fourth country to do so, but the first to do so on its first attempt. It looks to join the ESA, NASA and Roscosmos as the only space agencies with a Martian presence.

MAIN STORY: Nov 4, 2013 (7:05 a.m.)

India may become  only the fourth nation, or group of nations, to ever send a spacecraft to Mars when on Tuesday, Nov 5, it will launch its first Mars Orbiter Mission probe to the Red Planet.

So far, only the United States, Russia and Europe have reached the Martian world, but if India has a successful launch for Mangalyaan, which means “Mars craft” in Hindi, there remains a good chance that India can join their ranks. India hopes that a journey to Mars will prove its technological ability to explore the solar system.

Mangalyaan is scheduled to launch at 2:38 p.m. (local time) on Tuesday from a small island near Chennai on the country’s southern coast. Assuming a successful launch, the craft will spend about 11 months in space, traveling more than 420 million miles to reach the Red Planet. If its efforts prove fruitful, it could place India ahead of Japan and China in the space race.

“There is an ongoing race for space-related power and prestige currently in Asia, although few officials will admit it,” explained James Moltz to Bloomberg. “India is clearly concerned about China’s recent rise in space prestige and wants to minimize that damage.” Moltz is a professor at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, who has written books about the space race.

In August 2012, India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced the plans for the Mars mission, which came shortly after China’s failed attempt to launch an orbiter aboard a Russian rocket.

K. Radhakrishnan, chairman of the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), told the Associated Press that there is “a lot to understand about the universe, the solar system where we live in, and it has been humankind’s quest from the beginning,” adding that the mission is viewed primarily as a “technology demonstration.”

"We want to use the first opportunity to put a spacecraft and orbit it around Mars and, once it is there safely, then conduct a few meaningful experiments and energize the scientific community," he said.

Radhakrishnan noted that this is a high aim for a space agency, seeing that no country has yet to launch a successful Mars mission on its first attempt. Also, more than half of the world’s attempts to reach the Red Planet – 23 of 40 – have ended in failure.

If India can reach the Red Planet on its first attempt, it would have a huge lead in the space race, especially since both Japan in 1999 and China in 2011 failed to reach Mars. But despite those signs, Radhakrishnan denies the Indian space agency is vying for a lead over other Asian markets.

If the launch is a success and the probe does reach its intended orbit, India then plans to study the Martian surface, the atmosphere and search for methane gas, a sign that the planet can support life, according to the ISRO.

[ Watch the video: Curious Case of Methane on Mars ]

This would not be India’s first success in space. The country in 2008 launched the Chandrayaan-1 lunar probe with the financial support of the US. That probe contained an instrument that was able to detect water trapped in lunar rocks.

However, critics are concerned that India’s goals are imprudent, mainly because the country is spending $74 million (US) on this space mission while millions of its citizens live in poverty and despair. As well, the country spends another $1.1 billion (US) a year on its space focus in general.

“It’s a national milestone for the country to conquer territories beyond planet Earth,” Bharath Gopalaswamy, a Chennai native who is the deputy director of the South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council, told The Washington Post’s Annie Gowen. “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?”

India is jumping into the Mars race at about the right time, seeing that much interest is gearing up for manned missions to the Red Planet in the coming decades. NASA’s Charles Bolden has said that the US is hoping to launch a manned mission by 2030. As well, the ambitious Mars One project is looking to colonize Mars by 2023.

As for Mangalyaan, which is facing some pretty tough odds, the launch/mission is being watched closely from other experts in the field, who want nothing but the best for the Asian nation's attempts.

"We're pulling for India," said Bruce Jakosky, project leader for the US’s MAVEN spacecraft, which is scheduled to liftoff for Mars on November 18. "The more players we have in space exploration the better."

Some of the data from the Mangalyaan mission will complement research conducted by the MAVEN probe, according to NASA. Of course MAVEN would also have to find success, and not join one of the 23 other failed attempts in reaching the Red Planet.

"I know I'm an absolute wreck with ours coming up in two weeks," Jakosky told AP. "... There are 10,000 things that need to go right in order for it to succeed, and it can take only one thing going wrong for it to fail."

Once Mangalyaan reaches its intended orbit next fall, it will spend at least six months investigating the Red Planet.