India’s ambitious plan to send a spacecraft to Mars later this year marks a major milestone in its space program. The mission is a bid by India to catch up in the global space race and join the league of major space-faring nations.
The unmanned, Indian spacecraft will be launched around November, when the red planet is closest to earth. It will take nine months to reach Mars’ orbit.
An official at the Indian Space Research Organization, Deviprasad Karnik, says the Mars Orbiter mission will be equipped with a methane sensor and look for signs of past life.
“The presence of methane on the surface of Mars will give us an indication of probability of life existence either from biological or zoological source,” said Karnik.
The Mars mission comes five years after India sent an unmanned spacecraft to the moon and detected evidence of water on the lunar surface for the first time. It was heralded as a significant scientific discovery.
India now joins a handful of nations, including the United States, Russia, China and Japan, that have sent spacecrafts to probe Mars.
James Oberg, a space consultant based in Houston, Texas, says India’s Mars mission has the potential to make an important contribution.
“The time is now for many players to be doing many things across a much wider range of target goals than in the simple days of the moon race. It is not just playing a game, or showing off at the Olympics or something. It is actually making contributions to the world,” he said. “We have seen the technology that India has brought to the space program, very significant technology, and the goals of the program appear to me to be very realistic and very important for India as well as the rest of the world.”