India’s maiden Mars mission: Mangalyaan satellite to be launched today

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MangalyaanSriharikota:  India is all set for its maiden Mars mission with its satellite, Mangalyaan, scheduled for a lift-off in the afternoon today from the balmy space port of Sriharikota in coastal Andhra Pradesh.

The countdown for the launch is progressing normally. With the weather forecast clear and no space debris expected to come in the way of the satellite, the lift-off is likely to take place on time at 2:38 pm. The rocket is fully fuelled and health checks are being undertaken even as hundreds of scientists from the Indian Space Research Organisation or ISRO spent a sleepless night toiling to work against a stiff deadline. Some 1000 scientists worked during Diwali to ensure all systems are fully ready. (India’s mission to Mars: full coverage)

The Mars orbiting mission is an unmanned space craft costing Rs. 450 crore and this first inter-planetary mission by India will study the thin Martian atmosphere after its year-long journey of more than 780 million kilometres.

The mission was fast-tracked and completed in a record 15 months.

The satellite will be hurled into space using the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle on an unconventional trajectory where it will first circle the earth and then spend nine months on its long journey to rendezvous with Mars. After a tricky operation it will be captured by the gravity of Mars where it will spend six months studying Mars and announcing to the world India’s arrival near the Red Planet. (India’s mission to Mars: 10 facts)

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on August 15, 2012 announced the bold conception of Mangalyaan from the ramparts of the Red Fort while addressing the nation on Independence Day. “Our spaceship will go near Mars and collect important scientific information. This Mangalyaan will be a huge step for us in the area of science and technology,” he had said.

Some critics of the mission believe the government is being profligate by going to Mars when there is rampant poverty in the country. “We have heard these arguments since the 1960s about India being a poor country, not needing or affording a space program. If we can’t dare dream big it would leave us as hewers of wood and drawers of water! India is today too big to be just living on the fringes of high technology,’ said a top government official.

ISRO says the satellite which will be placed in an elliptic orbit around Mars and will carry 15 kg of scientific instruments. According to ISRO, the objectives of the mission are to focus on remotely assessing “life, climate, geology, origin and evolution and sustainability of life on the planet”. “This is a technology demonstration project, a mission that will announce to the world India has the capability to reach as far away as Mars’ says K. Radhakrishnan, chairman of ISRO.

Since 1960, there have been 51 missions to Mars with just about a third of them being successful; attempts have been made by the former USSR and Russia, USA, Europe, Japan and China. The first Chinese mission to Mars called Yinghuo-1 failed in 2011 so some believe that India is trying to march ahead in what has been described as the twenty first century ‘Asian Space Race’.

After the successful maiden mission to the moon, Chandrayaan-1 in 2008 the natural stepping stone for India was to try to reach Mars.  K. Radhakrishnan, chairman of ISRO, Bangalore said: “This mars mission is a historical necessity, after having helped find water on the moon, looking for signatures of life on mars is a natural progression. India is now demonstrating its capability to undertake inter-planetary travel with end to end technological prowess in space”.