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India reaches for Mars on prestige space mission

Updated Nov 03, 2013 10:30am


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In this file picture taken on September 11, 2013, scientists and engineers work on a Mars Orbiter vehicle at the Indian Space Research Organisation's (ISRO) satellite centre in Bangalore in Bangalore. India began a countdown on November 3 to the launch of its most ambitious and risky space mission to date, sending a probe to Mars which was conceived in just 15 months on a tiny budget. — Photo AFP
In this file picture taken on September 11, 2013, scientists and engineers work on a Mars Orbiter vehicle at the Indian Space Research Organisation's (ISRO) satellite centre in Bangalore in Bangalore. India began a countdown on November 3 to the launch of its most ambitious and risky space mission to date, sending a probe to Mars which was conceived in just 15 months on a tiny budget. — Photo AFP

NEW DELHI: India began a countdown Sunday to the launch of its most ambitious and risky space mission to date, sending a probe to Mars which was conceived in just 15 months on a tiny budget.

After a recent Chinese attempt flopped, India is seeking to make a statement of its technological prowess by becoming the first Asian power to reach the Red Planet more than 200 million kilometres (124 million miles) away.

An unmanned probe, weighing 1.35 tonnes and about the size of a large refrigerator, will leave earth strapped to an Indian rocket which is set to blast off from the south-east coast on Tuesday afternoon.

Wrapped in a golden film, the orbiter will carry advanced sensors to measure the Martian atmosphere, hoping to detect traces of methane which could help prove the existence of some sort of primitive life form.

“Any interplanetary probe is complex. As we can see for Mars, there were 51 missions so far around the world and there were 21 successful missions,”chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), K. Radhakrishnan, told AFP last Thursday.

Undeterred by the failure rates, he laughed off any suggestion of last-minute nerves, saying: “If it is a failure, then learn. Failure is a stepping stone for success.”Success would be a source of national pride for Indians, whose 2008 unmanned mission to the moon helped prove the existence of water in another leap forward, 39 years after Neil Armstrong set foot there.

It would also bolster the reputation of India, the land of the world's cheapest car, as a leader in low-cost innovation. The project was announced in August 2012 with a budget of only 4.5 billion rupees ($73 million).

Lacking a rocket large enough to fire the satellite directly out of earth's atmosphere, ISRO has also had to rely on another famed Indian specialism of “Jugaad” -- confecting a cheap work-around solution.

Instead of flying directly, the 350-tonne rocket will orbit earth for nearly a month, building up the necessary velocity to break free from the earth's gravitational pull.

“Don't underestimate it because it is a low-cost mission that is being done for the first time,” Indian science journalist Pallava Bagla, author of the book “Destination Moon”, told AFP.

“Yes, there is Jugaad in it, there is innovation in it... and everyone wants to do low-cost missions nowadays.”NASA is under budget pressure and has faced cuts to proposed Mars missions in 2016 and 2018 despite having an overall objective, set by US President Barack Obama, of sending an astronaut there by 2030.

The United States is the only nation that has successfully sent robotic explorers to land on Mars, the most recent being Curiosity, a nearly one-tonne vehicle which touched down in August 2012.

One of its discoveries appeared to undercut the purpose of the Indian mission after a study published in September revealed Curiosity detected only trace elements of methane in the Mars atmosphere.

NASA will help ISRO with ground monitoring from three deep-space facilities after the launch at 02:38pm (0938 GMT) on Tuesday. The American space agency will send its own probe, Maven, 13 days later.

The official countdown for blastoff of the Indian orbiter, nicknamed “Mangalyaan” in local media, began at 06:08am on Sunday, which is the Hindu festival of lights known as Diwali.

Only the US, Russia and the European Union have succeeded in reaching Mars before. China failed in 2011 with its probe aboard a Russian rocket and Japan's effort floundered in 2003.

Radhakrishnan denies that India is competing with China despite speculation that India accelerated its Mars mission to prove a point against its militarily and economically superior Asian rival.

He also defends ISRO and its 16,000-strong workforce against suggestions that New Delhi should not be spending on space when more than a third of all children are malnourished and half of Indians have no toilets.

“Space is one area right from the beginning that has been contributing to the development process of the country,” he said, pointing to better weather forecasting for farmers and satellite communication networks.

Upendra Choudhury, an associate professor at Aligarh Muslim University who is an expert on India's ballistic missile programme, says the spending has also boosted national security.

“India's achievements in space technology are contributing to its missile technology, including the Agni-V,” he told AFP.

The Agni-V, capable of reaching Beijing and eastern Europe, was test fired for the first time in April 2012 and catapulted India into a small group of countries with such long-distance missile technology.


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Comments (16) Closed

A ahah Nov 04, 2013 04:59am


DK Nov 04, 2013 05:40am

When US sent it's MARS rover successfully, people back in India were talking that India cannot do anything like that because we are not good in science and technology and forgot the fact that India has to fight poverty back then too. Now, India is ready for the mission...people started criticizing that India has lot of poverty and spending on unnecessary things. So there are people who's full time job is criticize some thing or the other. Best thing is to disregard them! Goodluck ISRO!

Mayank Nov 04, 2013 07:19am

Best of Luck ISRO, Best of Luck India. Proud on you guys !!

Jai Hind.

Jerry Nov 04, 2013 07:32am

Good luck ISRO.

kailash Nov 04, 2013 04:18pm

Well done India :) Good for all Asian countries to show their power...whole world is amazed after seeing this project with small amount...and i say all the best to this project :)

Shreekant Nov 04, 2013 06:04pm

Competitive spirit in itself has to be hailed, irrespective of how big or small the competition is or who are we competing with.

Considering the point that if India is competing with china in this case, as claimed here, I do not understand what is the harm. It will add learning to the knowledge of mankind and space exploration and will add new avenues to space venture, its will be victory of human race.

I wish all the best to this mission and will pray for its success not because I am Indian, but if successful , you can foresee its potential.

Also, world will have a really different view for ISRO then.

Good Luck ISRO, Go India Go !!!

Samar B Nov 04, 2013 06:48pm

Congrats to the Indian scientists for undertaking this complex mission, and making our region proud. The orbital innovations are marvelous - catapulting around the Earth each time with longer and longer apogee, and making use of the catapult effect to break-free of Earth's gravity and hurl the spacecraft to Mars. This is truly a great role model for children of this region - to be captivated by the region's inventiveness in the face of a low-budget, and yet aspire for the stars. Godspeed to the mission!

Parmod Dogra Nov 04, 2013 07:08pm

India is a Third World Country because it missed out 2 industrial revolutions during it occupation by others. We must not miss out on any present and future industrial revolution because they will decide if India becomes a 1st world country or not. We, the Hindus have a rich history of knowing space, understanding the space technology and must continue to explore it.

Raj Nov 04, 2013 08:44pm

Mission to Mars is expensive but not expensive enough when it involves research and development. India has one of the biggest space exploration industries in the world; sending satellites up into the space to monitor weather, control telecommunication and many other usage. India is planning up to 50 rocket launch in the next couple of years and each one of them is carrying satellites for other countries at one of the cheapest price per launch making India a hub of international space mission. India spends over $1 Billion on space and other related work but now it is paying them back big time. Wish Pakistan was also doing something similar but then sorry to see the state of affair it has got into. Killing health workers and doctors treating Polio among the children is not good. Learn to move yourself away from religious sentiments and learn to live a life.

sumit verma Nov 04, 2013 09:52pm

another milestone achieved by Indian space agency, my best wishes for pak space agency also...god bless us all..

kailash Nov 04, 2013 10:03pm

Well done India :) good job and proud moment for all indian and i think it is proud for all asian people :)

hindusthani Nov 05, 2013 01:18am

I know India within 5 years from today it will be a super power sub continent also for peace, economics and scientific developements India will depasse America and other countries in Future. Indians are very intelligent brains better than others it's proof! Hindusthani.

k.rahman Nov 05, 2013 02:16pm

@DK: very right. fully agree with you.

Sarwat Nov 06, 2013 12:52am

Congratulations India on a major endeavour.

sm Nov 06, 2013 05:18am

Why does the headline say "prestige space mission"? If China would have launched a similar mission to Mars, would DAWN have had the same headline, or would it read "exploratory space mission"? Why the discrimination DAWN?

gopi Nov 06, 2013 08:31pm


Because Indians are doing it, and Pakistanis cannot digest this fact. they suffer from Indigestion.