The scientific spotlight moved to India when their Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) reached the planet’s orbit last week. The successful insertion of the spacecraft into Mars’s orbit marked India’s first interplanetary mission. The Indian Space Research Organisation (IRSO) celebrated this significant achievement as the fourth space agency to reach Mars and the first to do so on their initial attempt. Scientists around the world have admired the IRSO’s mission for its engineering efficiency, affordable costs and the scientific value it may produce. India has certainly made an impact on the global scientific community.
Launched on the 5th November 2013 MOM, also known as Mangalyaan, took a 298 day journey to reach Mars. It arrived just days after NASA’s similar Mars orbiter mission – The American Maven. The total cost of the mission reached $74 million – affordable in comparison to NASA’s Maven orbiter, which amounted to $671 million. The IRSO’s chairman – K Radhakrishnan claimed that MOM is “the cheapest interplanetary mission to ever be undertaken by the world.” The IRSO’s simple, yet elegant design means that it weighs only 15kg, freeing the craft from the costs of an increased weight. The scientific instruments on board the orbiter are designed to answer specific questions, rather than carrying a large range of measuring devices, as with NASA’s Maven. Costs were also controlled by buying components designed only in India. Whilst the light, efficient design and Indian components saved money, labour is also more affordable in India.
MOM is equipped to measure the levels of methane in Mars’s atmosphere. Methane is abundant in Earth’s atmosphere, largely due to microorganisms releasing the gas. It is thought that similar methanogens might live under the surface of Mars. Detecting the levels of methane may suggest the existence of these methane producing organisms. It may also provide information on the history of Mars’s climate and atmosphere. The knowledge gained from MOM will work in conjunction with Maven to help scientists around the world piece together the mysteries of Mars. It is also important in all areas of science to gather multiple readings of the same phenomenon, in order to produce accurate, unbiased results. Magalyaan and Maven have joined Europe’s Mars Express, NASA’s Mars Odyssey probe, the Mars Reconnaissance orbiter and two surface rovers – NASA’s Opportunity and Curiosity. This may ensure sound scientific data through a host of instruments patrolling both the orbit and surface of Mars.
The IRSO’s mission to Mars may bring a number of benefits to India. Investing in space projects brings wealth, driving the economy through scientific discovery and technology. By demonstrating to the world that India may develop effective space programs, they may gain more opportunities through international markets. On the 25th September India’s orbiter captured its first image of Mars – a synonymous red glow of the planet’s surface and atmosphere. However an image from Earth proved equally popular. The image shows a group of traditionally dressed Indian women at the control room celebrating the orbiter’s arrival at Mars. Many believe it is an uplifting image, promoting a healthy image of women and science. Twenty percent of the IRSO’s 14,246 employees are women, many of whom are scientists and engineers at the organisation. For instance the engineer in charge of transporting the satellite launch vehicle to the launch pad was a woman. The mission has proven to be a scientific and social success – boosting the morale of both India and the rest of the admiring world.
Lasting 6 – 10 months Mangalyaan aims to continue to monitor the red planet’s atmosphere. The mission has shown the world that space exploration is possible on an affordable budget. The achievement has brought pride to India –collaborating with other scientists to further human knowledge and the capacity of space exploration. India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke of his pride, “History is made and I’m glad to have witnessed it.”
How else has science improved the morale of a country?