MOM-entous occasion for India as Mangalyaan reaches Mars orbit

  • Sudipto Mondal and Vanita Srivastava, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Sep 25, 2014 13:04 IST

The Mars orbiter spacecraft started sending its first high quality images of the Red Planet late on Wednesday, Isro sources said, allaying fears that the missions cameras had failed.

“Images are clicked. Data is downloaded. Process is going on,” a top Isro official said, replying to a question on whether the spacecraft had taken pictures of Mars’ surface.

India's Mars Orbiter spacecraft has sent five pictures of the red planet's surface, said a senior Isro official. "The Mars Orbiter has started sending pictures. We have received five pictures and these are under processing," the official said, preferring anonymity.

Images were expected to arrive in the afternoon but there was no news about it till evening causing some concern.

Earlier on Wednesday, India created history by becoming the first country to succeed on its first Mars mission when Isro's Mangalyaan slipped into Martian orbit after a few nail-biting moments.

The country joined the United States, European Space Agency and the former Soviet Union in the elite club of Martian explorers with the Mars Orbiter Mission, affectionately called MOM.

"History has been created by our scientists", said PM Narendra Modi in his speech immediately after the scientists declared the mission a success. "We have dared to reach out to the unknown."

"When our cricketers win a tournament, we celebrate in a big way. What these scientists have achieved is thousand times bigger," he added.

Read: From lighter rocket to slingshot, Isro innovates its way to Mars

Earlier, there were some tense moments at the Indian Space and Research Organisation (Isro), which commanded a series of tricky manoeuvres to position the spacecraft in its designated orbit around Mars.

The insertion started at 4.17am when the spacecraft switched over to the medium gain antenna for providing the communication link during the insertion. At 6.56am, the spacecraft initiated the process of forward rotation, reducing its speed.


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At 7.17am, the scientists had to grapple with the most critical moment — when the liquid apogee motor had to be fired. The motor was woken up for four seconds on Monday during a test-fire after 300 days of long sleep.

The motor was fired for 24 minutes, reducing the velocity of the spacecraft by 4.2km per second in relation to Mars. This was soon followed by moments of tension and anxiety when the communication broke as the spacecraft slipped behind Mars as the scientists waited for the good news.

At 7.45am, the occult ended and after two minutes, communication with the spacecraft resumed and data was flashed about the performance of the liquid apogee motor.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi congratulated Isro scientists after the mission met with success.

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Most of MOM’s Mars orbit insertion happened in the dark because the spacecraft was around the surface of the planet that did not receive sunlight.

Mangalyaan, which relies on homegrown technology, is a remarkably low budget mission of about $75 million. Nasa's Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution mission, or Maven, which reached its position around the Red Planet on Sunday has a price tag of $671 million - nearly nine times that of MOM's.

Scientists at Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory had wished their Indian counterparts luck a day ago. “Good luck MOM. From your JPL family,” read the message posted on Isro’s Facebook page.

Read:India expands boundaries of knowledge with Mars Orbiter Mission

India's feat gains significane in the light of the fact that more than half the world's previous attempts - 23 out of 41 Mars missions - have failed, including attempts by Japan in 1999 and China in 2011.

"India has become the first Asian country to do the Mars mission. This also is a reflection of the growing space race between India and China as well as in the broader Asian context," senior researcher Dr. Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan said.

India has said its spacecraft is chiefly meant to showcase the country's high-tech space abilities. Already, India has successfully launched a lunar orbiter, Chandrayaan-1, which discovered key evidence of water on the Moon in 2008.

Read:Reaching Mars: How it happened

Read: Bollywood lauds India's date with the red planet

MOM's scientific goals including using five solar-powered instruments to gather data that will help determine how Martian weather systems work and what happened to the water that is believed to have once existed on Mars in large quantities. It will also search Mars for methane, a key chemical in life processes on Earth that could also come from geological processes.

None of the instruments will send back enough data to answer these questions definitively, but experts say the data will help them better understand how planets form, what conditions might make life possible and where else in the universe it might exist. Some of the data will complement research expected to be conducted by Maven.

The Isro Indian Deep Space Network (IDSN) facility in Byalalu, 55 kilometres from Bangalore, along with other global centres is tracking the spacecraft. A confirmation call through a hotline from Canberra, which is the station in position to receive the first signals came in at around 8.10 am

The spacecraft is expected to circle the planet for at least six months, following an elliptical orbit that gets within 365 kilometers (227 miles) of the planet's surface at its closest and 80,000 kilometers (49,700 miles) at its farthest.

Nasa congratulated India in a Twitter message, welcoming MOM to studying the Red Planet.

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