India expands boundaries of knowledge with Mars Orbiter Mission

  • Dr. Kumar Krishen
  • Updated: Sep 24, 2014 10:15 IST

The success of Mangalyaan in achieving the desired orbit around Mars shows great maturity in space science and technology that India has achieved. It will lend credence to what Prime Minister Hon. Narendra Modi has said — that India can be the Walmart for space technology for the world.

India has shown that taking risk in expanding the boundaries of knowledge with Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) is ingrained in its culture and ambitions. The exploration of Mars has attracted tremendous attention of the world as Mars may have hosted life once in its past. In executing this first India’s mission to Mars, Isro has faced many formidable challenges and overcame these through meticulous planning and execution. Some of these challenges included launch into an orbit 250km by 23, 550km orbit around the Earth, performance of liquid engine after its long sleep mode, geocentric phase and trans Mars injection, achieving trajectory suitable for Mars orbit insertion, mission planning and management, and finally putting MOM in Mars orbit.

Mars formation and evolution are comparable to that of Earth. Research to date has shown that Mars conditions were suitable for life sometime in its past. The Methane Sensor for Mars on MOM has methane absorption wavelength and can measure the magnitude of methane up to the surface of the planet. This measurement will be very important as the earlier Nasa Curiosity mission reported in 2013 that there was no methane in the Martian atmosphere. With no methane, it is very unlikely that there was life on Mars. This gives MOM a new dimension in adding needed knowledge.

Through MOM, India has achieved its objectives of developing and testing capabilities and technologies such as deep space communications, navigation, mission planning and execution for interplanetary mission which is characterized by a distance that takes more than twelve minutes for light to travel. The mission will sense Mars surface features, morphology, mineralogy, and Martian atmosphere with indigenous scientific instruments.

NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (Maven) spacecraft successfully entered Mars’ orbit on September 21. “As the first orbiter dedicated to studying Mars’ upper atmosphere, Maven will greatly improve our understanding of the history of the Martian atmosphere, how the climate has changed over time, and how that has influenced the evolution of the surface and the potential habitability of the planet,” said Nasa administrator Charles Bolden. “It also will better inform a future mission to send humans to the Red Planet in the 2030s.”

Together, MOM and MAVEN will help us understand the past of Mars. India has had romance with astronomy for thousands of years and this mission keeps that alive.

Dr. Krishen is a Senior Scientist at NASA and views expressed by him are not necessarily those of NASA.

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