India today created space history by successfully placing its low-cost Mars spacecraft in orbit around the Red Planet in its very first attempt, catapulting the country into an elite club of three nations.
Watched by Prime Minister Prime Minister Narendra Modi, ISRO scientists successfully ignited the main 440 Newton Liquid Apogee Motor (LAM) and eight small thrusters that fired for 24-minutes from 7.17 AM and slowed down the speed of Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) spacecraft 'Mangalyaan' for it to slip into a smooth orbit around the Red Planet after almost an year-long voyage.
"Today MOM has met Mangal (Mars). Today Mangal has got MOM. The time this mission was short named as MOM, I was sure that MOM won’t disappoint us," Modi, who wore a red coloured jacket, said annnouncing the Rs 450 crore mission's success, after nerve-wracking final moments at the command centre of Indian Space Research Organisation(ISRO) here.
Scientists broke into wild cheers and congratulated each other after the 1,350 kg spacecraft was manoeuvred into its designated place, capping a 666 million km journey that began on November 5 last.
With the success of "Mangalyaan", India has become the first country to go to Mars in the very first try. European, American and Russian probes have managed to orbit or land on the planet, but after several attempts. The first Chinese mission to Mars, called Yinghuo-1, failed in 2011. Earlier in 1998, the Japanese mission ran out of fuel and was lost.
|Fingers crossed! At the MOM Mission Control before today's success. Courtesy: facebook.com/isromom|
Modi, who witnessed the operation along with the space scientists, said the odds were stacked against "us with only 21 of the 51 missions to Mars being successful," but "we have prevailed."
"We have gone beyond the boundaries of human enterprise and innovation.
We have navigated our craft through a route known to very few," Modi said in a speech in Hindi and English, congratulating the scientists and "all my fellow Indians on this historic occasion."
An elated Prime Minister patted the back of ISRO Chairman K Radhakrishnan and complimented the Indian space scientists for making space history.
"I have said it in the past too, the amount our scientists have spent on this mission is even less than what they spend in making Hollywood movies," he said in his address to the mission scientists.
|Celebrations at ISRO after the success of the MOM, in Bangalore. AP Photo/Aijaz Rahi|
At just 74 million USD, the mission less than the estimated 100 million USD budget of the sci-fi blockbuster Gravity.
India's MOM is the cheapest inter-planetary mission, costing a tenth of NASA's Mars mission Maven that entered the Martian orbit on September 22.
It aims to study Mars' surface and mineral composition, and scan its atmosphere for methane, a chemical strongly tied to life on Earth.
Given the high rate of failures --only 21 of the total of 51 missions sent to Mars by various countries being successful, the success of MOM has given a boost to India's global standing in Space.
With the success of 'Mangalyaan', India also becomes the first Asian country to have sent a mission to the Red Planet.
Mars Orbiter Insertion was carried out automatically by commands loaded onto the spacecraft after its velocity was slowed down from 22.1km per second to 4.4km per second to enable it to be captured by the Martian orbit.
The spacecraft had entered the Martian neighbourhood on Monday.
At the time of MOM's orbital insertion, its signals took about 12 minutes and 28 seconds to reach Earth where it was received by NASA's Deep Space Network Stations in Canberra and Goldstone which relayed the data in real time to ISRO's station in Bangalore.
The first sign of success on the very last leg came when ISRO announced that the burn of engines on India's Mars orbiter had been confirmed.
"All engines of Mars orbiter are going strong. Burn confirmed," ISRO said as it signalled history in the making.
Igniting the main engine was critical as it had been lying dormant for about 300 days and was only woken up briefly for four seconds on Monday.
It was a tricky, make-or-break manoeuvre given that the slightest error could have pushed the Orbiter into the deep depths of space.
Much of the spacecraft's manoeuvre took place behind Mars as seen from Earth. That means that from a point four minutes into the burn being employed till three minutes after the scheduled end of the manoeuvre, teams on Earth had no view of the spacecraft's progress.
The Orbiter will keep moving in an elliptical path for at least six months with its instruments sending their gleanings back home.
The 1,350 kg spacecraft is equipped with five instruments, including a sensor to track methane or marsh gas -- a possible sign of life, a colour camera and a thermal imaging spectrometer to map the surface and mineral wealth of the Red Planet.
The spacecraft was launched on its nine-month long odyssey on a homegrown PSLV rocket from Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh on Nov 5, 2013. It had escaped the earth's gravitational field on December 1, 2013.