India Races To Space With a Mission to Mars

India aims to join an elite group of nations to reach the Red Planet, and at a fraction of the cost

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Arun Sankar K / AP

A rocket carrying the Mars orbiter takes off from the east-coast island of Sriharikota, India, Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2013.

India launched its first unmanned mission to Mars on Tuesday as it tries to join a select group of countries that have managed to land spacecraft on the Red Planet. As the rocket sped off towards space from Sriharikota, a small island near Chennai in the southern part of the country, it was a huge boost for the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), which started in the 1960s with a local church as its main office, a converted bishop’s house as its workshop and a cowshed as its laboratory. The organization launched India’s first rocket from the middle of a coconut plantation in the southern state of Kerala in 1963.

Tuesday’s launch is just the first stage of Mangalyaan, as the mission has been named. The 1,350-kilogram orbiter will travel 780 million kilometers before reaching the Red Planet in September next year. “The biggest challenge will be precisely navigating the space craft to Mars,” K. Radhakrishnan, chairman of the Indian space agency, told the AP. “We will know if we pass our examination on Sept. 24, 2014.”

If it succeeds in reaching the surface, the Mars vehicle will probe the Red Planet for signs of life and test equipment for deep-space travel. India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called Mangalyaan a huge step for India in the area of science and technology when he announced the mission from the parapets of the historic Red Fort – the seat of Mughal power – during his Independence Day speech in 2012.

India’s Mars mission took fifteen months to complete at a cost of $74 million, the cheapest Mars mission yet attempted. According to a tally by the United States’ National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), there have been 40 missions to Mars by the U.S., Russia and the European Union, of which 18 succeeded. China attempted to send a space probe to Mars in 2011, but the craft failed to exit Earth’s orbit. “At least by NASA’s standards, the total mission cost is very low,” David Paige, professor of Planetary Science at the University of California, Los Angeles told TIME. “If India can be successful with this mission, it will open up new opportunities for more frequent low-cost Mars missions.”

One of NASA’s upcoming missions, MAVEN, which will be launched later this month, took five years and $679 million to build, a stark contrast with Mangalyaan in terms of time and money. “The global community is really excited about the low cost of this mission as nobody has billions of dollars lying around for planetary exploration,” says Pallava Bagla science editor at Indian television channel NDTV and author of Destination Moon: India’s Quest for Moon, Mars and Beyond.

India’s space program has always been something of a trailblazer despite its limited resources. The program has focused on what has been called people-centric applications. Its first step towards planetary exploration came only in 2008, when it sent an $89 million mission to the moon.

But critics have argued against the Mars mission, insisting that India should instead be diverting the millions towards social programs. Jean Drèze, a Belgian development economist, told the Financial Times last year, “I don’t understand the importance of India sending a space mission to Mars when half of its children are undernourished and half of all Indian families have no access to sanitation.”

Supporters counter that all Indians will ultimately benefit from the technological advances space exploration could produce.  “The technology developed from such cutting-edge space exploration will ultimately trickle down to benefit the common man,” says Radhakrishnan.

Perhaps the best example of that so far may be how the country prepared for Cyclone Phailin, a powerful tropical storm that struck India in October. High-tech satellites and Doppler Radars along the coast of the Bay of Bengal gave early warnings, allowing for the evacuation of hundreds of thousands of people from low-lying areas. Less than 50 were reported killed by Phailin, while similar storms in the past wreaked unimaginable devastation. In 1999, the cyclone Orissa killed more than 10,000 people.

“Having a state-of-the art fleet of Earth-observation and telecommunication satellites for a subcontinent like India is a necessity, not a luxury,” says Susmita Mohanty, CEO of Earth2orbit, India’s first private space start-up. “As a nation, not only should we ensure food, shelter, education, jobs, healthcare and good public transport for our masses, but also give them a reason to dream, to dare, to explore, to reach for the stars.”

35 comments
Ravi
Ravi

A good article to read www.firstpost.com/india/why-western-criticism-of-indias-mars-mission-is-blatant-racism-1224419.html

LeeSmith1
LeeSmith1

Had the rocket blown off just after getting off from launch pad the posts would have been about how India should learn and gain expertise in coming up with a technology that convinces its people to not defecate on its streets first and leave rocket science to smarter countries

And if the orbiter successfully manages to enter Mars Orbit and be in the elite few countries club the comments would be coming in about US already sent orbiter in 1970s so big deal as it took only40 plus years for Indians to do what Americans did decades ago.

If India lands a rover on Mars or a man on Moon, comments would be about USA being there done that and Indians first should fix the poverty and provide millions with toilet first before attempting to colonize a foreign planet 

This is typical western view on India or any other non western developing nation whenever they seem to make any scientific advancement that is getting on par with western countries

beachjuicetice
beachjuicetice

There are quite a lot of white nationalist, muslims, and pakistanis, some masquerading as Indian talking down the ISRO, as though they are best aware what is in India's interest. We all know their agenda in relation to India.

This mission cost the average Indian taxpayer 2USD. Most people living in slums and such don't pay a penny in income or property taxes in India the first place, tax administration isn't applied to them. ISRO employs 20k top Indian scientists and engineers, many of whom would otherwise find jobs abroad. Most Indians, rich and poor, have expressed a great deal of pride in ISRO.

India's space program is an investment in its future, just like investment in infrastructure is an investment in its future. Obviously you want to invest in nutrition, sanitation, population control, infrastructure, power generation, administration, utilities, domestic / national security, &c. as well. But everything has to have a balanced priority. Nobody in any country argues hiring aerospace scientists / engineers should be halted as well as all R&D in the sciences and technology, just because there exists infrastructure that could be improved somewhere.

One day we will have off-world colonies, and India will not need to play catch-up when that happens. Anyone who thinks otherwise is among the small-minded, opinion unworthy of consideration.

There doesn't exist a world power today that, when industrializing, hadn't committed abuses of human rights. Churchill expressed interest in gassing Indian families to death. If these were committed by all nations to support their industrial / military interests, then certainly there's an argument to be made that India is also justified in making sacrifices for the interest of future generations.

The technologies and expertise developed for these missions come to use in all other areas. An extremely tangible demonstration of this was the recent hurricane which struck India. The work of ISRO was absolutely essential in saving would could be thousands of Indian lives.

In the face of all this, taking a comprehensive, long-term view of such an investment, the price tag seems a very small price to pay.


KrishnaSarathy
KrishnaSarathy

The cost of $74 million is in noway can be compared and can be justified  to the American NASA expenses neither the same can be justified saying that by our advanced satellite guidance we have saved people from the Phailin cyclone. In fact the devastation caused by the cyclone was horrible. Added the mission to Mars to find water and living organisms is in no way to help the Indian economy or it's in noway a cure to our ailments in our social life we face everyday! It's undoubtedly a blunder that ISO has committed and the dummy government in the center has accepted. They are praising our space scientists, which looks funny when NASA itself has slashed its future space programs and fully discontinued the SPACE SHUTTLE program! India wants to be a member of such a club where all the idiots (ignorant as per Oxford dictionary) exchange things of no value, yet alone spend billions of public money contributing  their worst to the society at large! 

powerandprivilege
powerandprivilege

Just an election year last ditch gimmick by the ruling party because it is losing popularity on account of corruption scandals, and thugs that have gone scot-free.  The last thing India needs is money wasted on such projects.  The country is falling behind other third world countries in most major socioeconomic markers - including those of Bangladesh and sub-Sahara countries.

amit_rocker1990
amit_rocker1990

There is whole civilization lives there on Mars and every plant but human can't have access to it illegally ,It belongs to different demigods and anyone tries to go there illegally will definitely fail ,It exist in another dimension ,Americans lie about moon mission ,mars mission ,it is all lie ,just t show power o the world they do this propaganda. we have only access to 3 dimensions but there are other dimensions of reality and in that whole extraordinary far advanced than humans lives there ,we have access to x,y,z only but there are other dimension ,Todays humans are fools and believe on demons (scientists ),Thanks we lost 4 billion rupees ,effort etc. 

SanMan
SanMan

To the critics, it's worth mentioning that Indians spend ten times more money on firecrackers each year than was spent on this Mars mission. This mission's cost was less than the cost of 4 big Bollywood movies, of which Bollywood churns out so many forgettable ones. So let's keep things in a rational perspective here, and not single out scientists and engineers as being the evil parasites bringing down society. Electronics engineers at ISRO earn one tenth the salaries of their counterparts in the West, and so it's not like they're a bunch of over-pampered poodles. And yet they can still send a spacecraft to Mars, over 400 million kilometers away. When an endless parade of no-talent filthy rich celebrities prance and preen on Indian movie screens, then the world can barely muster a laugh or a yawn, but when some hardworking low-paid engineers and scientists send a space probe to Mars, then suddenly everybody's got some venom and scorn to spit out. Take a look at these 2 starkly contrasting kinds of people, and then tell me who really deserves to be celebrated by Indian society. I think the world are telling us more about themselves than about ISRO's "wastefulness".

augustt
augustt

"As a nation, not only should we ensure food, shelter, education, jobs, healthcare and good public transport for our masses, but also give them a reason to dream, to dare, to explore, to reach for the stars.”

So how are food, shelter, education, jobs, healthcare and good public transport ensured in India?

Aksa8
Aksa8

Though the reference to an intended "Mars landing" may not actually tally with the announced mission profile, the descriptions of the humble beginnings of ISRO are a source of pride to all admirers of the programme as it signifies the progress made over the years. It 's a case of "You've come a long way, Baby!"

Kudos to TIME for a balanced report.

vaishnavjagdip
vaishnavjagdip

Hearty congratulations to ISRO, ISRO has brighten the India Image.


As being said  oftenly ,India is potential ,has intellectuals, possess huge natural resources however Politicas has spoiled 

Image of India, natural resources are being looted, rampant corruption siphons off public /tax payer money ,poor becomes poorer hence commits suicides.

Politicians should realise that  real achievement is "Public satisfaction' not personal gains,then only democracy shall work smoothly ,eeffecctively

RamaRatnam
RamaRatnam

Good work ISRO. A minor correction needs to be noted. Jean Dreze is not a "Belgian developmental economist". He is a Belgian-Indian, having taken Indian nationality. Strictly speaking he is an "Indian developmental economist." 

Mauryan
Mauryan

Outside the earth, we all belong to one nation. Whether India sends a probe to a planet or the US or China, we all can be proud of it. I am very proud of what the Hubble space telescope has achieved or the Voyager mission has done, even though I am not an American. Let the world benefit from such missions. Every nation has something to contribute. 

whthfu
whthfu

Congrats India !!  its a great leap for science like all such endeavors

soumya_24
soumya_24

Please be accurate about your article and correct it. ISRO's MOM is not trying "to land (a) spacecraft on the Red Planet" as mentioned in the first sentence, nor is it trying to "succeed in reaching the surface". It''s an Orbiter mission not a surface mission.

I say this because incorrect reporting such as this only detrimentally adds to the substantial debate surrounding this launch.

BTW, I'm from India, and am immensely proud so far.

NandaKishoreN
NandaKishoreN

@LeeSmith1 If it's about calculation, then one must also consider that if India manages to enter Mars Orbit, it has done it in 66 years post independence.  But how many centuries have passed for US post independence to achieve the same result in 1970s?

brewstermind
brewstermind

@KrishnaSarathy  What a funny..according to you all the scientists are fools.Then please,stop using the internet and,mobile phones,cars,lamps......,etc etc... these things are invented or developed by some fools (scientists) .grow up man(but your profile pic shows a middle aged man so i don't have any hope left).NASA fully discontinued the SPACE SHUTTLE program not because they got some brain recently ,but the shuttles are not reliable and safe.NASA is developing more powerful,safer rockets and space vehicles for the future projects"en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orion_(spacecraft)","www.lpi.usra.edu/lunar/constellation/.../Orion_NP-2010-10-025-JSC.pdf‎"have you ever heard of 'Antrix corp',i don't think so!

Learn to value the 'KNOWLEDGE'of any form not the immediate gain.India missed the industrial revolution so lags in consecutive areas of 'energy/information technology /automobiles,we cannot afford any more mistakes  so let the scientists do their job.( ironically hindus believes that the 'real 'Krishna Sarathy Once  said"You have the right to perform your actions,but you are not entitled to the fruits of the actions.")


And i wish to know ,how could  you empower the poor with this 73 mln$?


I know it's hard to change someone's perception but ... hoping .(definitely you can't be from any science sector so it's just like a beautician commenting on a computer programmer's algorithm without knowing what's the use and how to use the program codes. no offense though.

AdamTaylor2
AdamTaylor2

@powerandprivilege That is the second dumbest thing i've ever read - sorry Amit_rocker wrote the dumbest thing below..  

When the US declared we'll send a man to the moon - it was considered a challenge issued by the president - when india does the same, its a political gimmick! 


Indian space program has helped us put a number of satellites into space - which enables us to better predict weather, find minerals and help farmers and the poor people in our country. Proof of this was when India was able to quickly evacuate its low lying areas during the hurricane last month - so please stop this nonsense.

SanMan
SanMan

@amit_rocker1990 

Your nutty babbling comments are proof of why Indians need to invest more in promoting science and technology. This mission raise the profile of science and technology in India, inspiring future generations of young people to pursue science and technology, which can only better the country's outlook.

brewstermind
brewstermind

@amit_rocker1990  poor  paki ,thinks that vedas are just like their k#ran ,do some more searches on google and copy paste them next time. don't try to use your own sentences for god sake.

NandaKishoreN
NandaKishoreN

@amit_rocker1990 If U wish that the mission should fail, U r surely NOT an Indian.  If U accidentally are then you should kill yourself of shame.

amit_rocker1990
amit_rocker1990

@SanMan Bollywood is curse on Indian society ,it creates dogs and bitches society ,prostitutes ,high paid prostitutes ,dogs .Bollywood is dominated by modern prostitutes ,Dogs 

SanMan
SanMan

@augustt ,

How are they ensured where you are? He stated that this was a goal, just as advancing the level of science and technology is a goal - and these goals are not mutually exclusive, but rather mutually reinforcing.

Remember that old saying: "If you give a man a fish, he'll eat for a day. If you teach a man how to send a spaceship to Mars, he'll figure out how to feed everybody."

Hotpuppy
Hotpuppy

@soumya_24 This is a fantastic technical feat.  If India accomplishes no more than crashing the mission on Mars they will have scored big.  Each phase of the mission requires excellence.  Launch, navigation, deceleration, and orbit.  I am from the US and I'm excited about the success India has achieved with this mission. 

NandaKishoreN
NandaKishoreN

@soumya_24 There are countless mistakes in the report along with a lot of arrogance in posing to talk great about ISRO and at the same time undermining the Indian Research.

AdamTaylor2
AdamTaylor2

@SanMan @amit_rocker1990 Couldnt agree more. too late to save idiots like amit_rocker - hopefully we can inspire someone who looks to the skies and aspires to reach for the stars!

amit_rocker1990
amit_rocker1990

@SanMan lol,this is not science and this is not technology I say this is foolishness ,there are tons of land on earth which is not fertile and thousands of hectares of land is desert and of no use to Man better use human mind and fertile that huge deserts ,remove poverty and you say science and technology because of you so-called illiterate rascals this world is like that and on the verge of destruction ,simple life is called science not this. This world is already created by someone and he gave manuals just like when someone create something ,he/she prepares manuals ,How to use this ,India has Vedas and that is this manual ,How to use this world ,there are tons of cases ,demons tried to reach Moon ,mars and other higher planets and they succeded but they were killed badily because they were infilterating ,indian needs it's vedic culture that is far advanced than this so-clled science of going to moon or mars ,whole civilzation lives there ,if u go there illegally u will be beaten up .Also,you will die soon and not this technology will help you but Vedas has point that you can even beat death .The modern demons are killing mother earth by exploiting the resources and soon will be punished heavily 

amit_rocker1990
amit_rocker1990

science ,this world is already created by someone and whole universe,stars ,planets water,soil  is created by someone better try to find that  and I know who is he ?  that's why I said it will fail 

whthfu
whthfu

@amit_rocker1990 @SanMan  bollywood creates high paid prostitutes ??? so hollywood creates space faring aliens ?? 


there is a phrase: its better to keep your mouth shut and let people think you are an idiot rather than open your mouth and confirm it...


follow that phrase, please..

NandaKishoreN
NandaKishoreN

@Hotpuppy @soumya_24 At least ISRO is not in a position to prove it's capabilities to the world. It has already bagged a good number of achievements. 

Anyway are U comparing the achievements of 60 year OLD independent India with 200+ year OLD USA?  Y don't U compare what U've achieved in 200 years and what India has achieved in 60 years in the field of Science and Technology?