As the white rocket sizzled its way into the clear blue sky, tailing along a trail of white bubbly smoke, India reached a new milestone. The 25th flight of the PSLV-C25 rocket successfully launched the satellite, Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM), informally known as Mangalyaan (‘Mars craft’), on November 5 at 2.38 pm IST. If the satellite makes it to the Martial orbit, India’s space research agency, Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) would become only the fourth to do so, after those of USA, Russia and Europe.
The mysterious Red Planet
Another name for Mars is the Red Planet, because when one sees the planet when it is bright and close to Earth, it appears like a bright red star. In Roman mythology, Mars was the god of war.
• The Mars Orbiter Mission is ISRO’s first interplanetary mission; the last mission launched by ISRO to examine a celestial body was the Chandrayaan-I satellite launched on October 22, 2010 towards the Moon.
• India’s nodal agency ISRO built and launched the satellite aboard the rocket PSLV-C25.
• With this mission, India will be the first Asian country and the fourth in the world to take part in interplanetary exploration.
• The satellite, called Mars Orbiter Satellite, is supposed to reach Mars’ orbit in September 2014, after a 300-day journey.
• The first 20-25 days will be spent in the Earth's orbit to build up velocity to break free from the Earth’s gravitational pull.
• The satellite weighs 1337 kg, about the size of a small car or very large refrigerator.
• The MOM carries a payload of five instruments –
a) Lyman Alpha Photometer (LAP), to measure the relative abundance of deuterium and hydrogen in Mars’ upper atmosphere, in order to understand the process of loss of water from the planet.
b) Methane Sensor for Mars (MSM), to measure methane in the Martian atmosphere, which undergoes spatial and temporal variations.
c) Mars Exospheric Neutral Composition Analyser(MENCA), to study the neutral composition of the upper atmosphere.
d) Mars Colour Camera (MCC), to give images and information about the surface features and composition, to monitor the dynamic events and weather of Mars, and to probe the two satellites of Mars, Phobos and Deimos.
e) Thermal Infrared Imaging Spectrometer (TIS), to measure thermal emission, in order to map surface composition and mineralogy of Mars, as many minerals and soil types have characteristic spectra in the thermal infrared region.
Flight path of Mars Orbiter Mission aboard PSLC-C25
500 scientists of ISRO took over 15 months to build Mangalyaan at a cost of approximately Rs 450 crore.
Aims of the Mars Orbiter Mission or Mangalyaan
~ To study the atmosphere of Mars
~ To explore things which have not been done by other countries
~ To develop several critical technologies needed for future explorations
~ To concentrate on climate and geology which are going to be crucial for future explorations of the planet
~ To study the effect of solar wind on Mars' atmosphere and its surface magnetic field
~ To join the international effort of assessing the suitability of Mars to life by searching for subsurface ground water trapped in aquifers for thousands of years
Of course, this is only the beginning. The rocket has just been launched. It is still in orbit around the earth. KS Shivkumar, director of the ISRO Satellite Centre where the spacecraft was built, said that the placing of the Mars Orbiter spacecraft into the orbit around the Earth was like his baby taking its first steps. “Our baby is up in space looking for scientific objects but we have a long way to go,” he said.
Mars mission history
• The erstwhile USSR, Russia, US, Britain, Europe, Japan and China have all launched missions to Mars
• There have been around 40 missions (but the total depends on how they are added up)
• More than half the world's attempts to reach the Red Planet have failed
• Only the US, USSR and Europe have been successful to date
The Mars Orbiter being prepared
MA comparative study of Mars and Earth
Mars sways human imagination like no other planet in the Solar System because its conditions are believed to be hospitable. It is similar to earth in many ways.
– K Radhakrishnan, Chairman, Indian ISROThe primary objective of our mission is to see if we can reach the Mars orbit. That is the acknowledged objective. There are also scientific objectives and a set of instruments for carrying them out.
– K Radhakrishnan, Chairman, ISRO
Mars in literature and popular imagination
• In 1898, HG Wells brought Mars into popular culture with his book The War of the Worlds. It revolved around the idea of ‘Martians’ invading the Earth and spawned the genre of ‘alien invasion’ fiction.
• In 1938, Orson Welles' radio adaptation of the novel, on the eve of Halloween, was so realistic that Americans flooded the streets in panic.
• In 2005, the book was adapted as a film under Steven Spielberg's direction, starring actor Tom Cruise.
• The Martian Chronicles (1950), written by Ray Bradbury who died this year, was a mosaic of two worlds running out of time. It was turned into a mini-series in the 1980s.
• In Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels (1726), astronomers on the fictional island of Laputa are said to have discovered two satellites around Mars. The book was written a century before an astronomer discovered the Martian satellites.