On September 24, 2014, India became the first country in the world to enter the Martian orbit in its first attempt. The mission dubbed as ‘Mangalyaan‘(Mars Orbiter Mission) was the first such interplanetary mission undertaken by an Asian country. Although launched on November 5, 2013, from Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota (Andhra Pradesh), it took 296 days for the probe to exit the Earth’s orbit.
It was on this day, 7 years ago, that the MOM probe finally reached the Martian orbit. It made ISRO the fourth space agency to achieve such a feat after NASA, European Space Agency and ROSCOSMOS. The purpose behind the mission was to explore the Martian atmosphere and its constituents such as the concentration of methane and carbon dioxide. Another objective was to develop the technology required for operating interplanetary missions. MOM probe was also meant to study the Martian surface features, topography, mineralogy, effects of solar wind and radiation.

The team of scientists, who worked on this project, were led by the then ISRO Chairman K Radhakrishnan. Mangalyaan is regarded as a successful planetary mission, particularly due to its cost-effectiveness. The Indian Space Research Organisation was able to achieve the feat at a budget of ₹450 crores ($74 million) i.e. 1/7th the cost incurred by the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) in NASA. The MOM probe collected close images of Mars’ moons, namely, Phobos and Deimos.

First Successful Maiden Attempt To Reach Mars Orbit

Before India, the first attempts by the USA and Russia had failed to reach Mars orbit. Even China had tried unsuccessfully. The first Chinese mission to Mars, named Yinghuo, had failed in 2011, along with the Russian Phobos Grunt mission with which it was launched. An orbiter sent by Japan in 1998 had also run out of fuel and was lost.

It was able to capture the full disc of Mars and pictures of the far side of Deimos. From the findings of the interplanetary mission, ISRO concluded that dust storms on Mars can rise up to 100s of kilometres. The biggest achievement of India’s MOM probe was its ability to do manoeuvres without wasting fuel, surviving communication blackout for a month between June-July 2015, and avoiding a clash with the comet Siding Spring. On November 5 last year, ISRO released payload data from Sep 24, 2017, to Sep 23, 2019, to the public.

In 2014, New York Times had published a cartoon that was criticised on social media as well as in various Indian publications. But the newspaper could not hide its elitism behind the cartoon. In the cartoon, a bare-footed man wearing a dhoti, turban and holding a buffalo next to him is seen knocking on the doors of ‘Elite Space Club’. Perhaps New York Times wanted to remind us of our past when India was ruled by the British and the racism against Indians was at its peak. The cartoon was aimed at mocking India’s attempts to be a space power, in a disgustingly racist way.

NYT had later issued an apology for the racist cartoon. However, India’s space research has seen many milestones over the years. In March this year, ISRO chief K Sivan had announced that India will send a second Mars mission named Mangalyaan 2, most likely an orbiter mission. This mission is likely to be undertaken after the Chandrayaan-3 mission, where India is trying to land a rover on the Moon.