Mangalyaan set for date with Mars, will India make space history?

A day after successfully test-firing its dormant main engine, scientists of the Indian Space and Research Organisation (ISRO) are all set to ensure India's ambitious Mars Orbiter Mission, which has already traversed 662 million km, enters the orbit of the red planet on Wednesday morning as planned.

Updated: Sep 24, 2014, 00:04 AM IST
Mangalyaan set for date with Mars, will India make space history?
Photo Credit: ISRO

Bangalore: A day after successfully test-firing its dormant main engine, scientists of the Indian Space and Research Organisation (ISRO) are all set to ensure India's ambitious Mars Orbiter Mission, which has already traversed 662 million km, enters the orbit of the red planet on Wednesday morning as planned.

If the Mars Orbiter Mission, affectionately nicknamed MOM, settles into the orbit accurately, India will join the US, European Space Agency and the former Soviet Union in the elite club of Martian explorers - a feat that is also likely to give a massive boost to the country's space programme.

The next few hours are crucial as the ISRO commands a series of tricky maneuvers to position the spacecraft in its designated orbit around Mars. The tricky manoeuvre involves slowing down the spacecraft now moving at benumbing speed to be captured in the Martian orbit, success of which would make India the first country to go to Mars in the maiden attempt.

"We have to excel," ISRO chief K Radhakrishnan said, expressing hope that that the mission would "establish the capabilities of India to orbit a spacecraft around Mars."

Prime Minister Narendra Modi also reached Bangalore on Tuesday evening as he didn't want to miss the historic event when the Indian spacecraft enters the Martian orbit early on September 24.

He will witness the event from the mission control centre in the telemetry, tracking and command network (ISTRAC) of the state-run Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) in Bangalore.

"Though the orbit insertion exercise begins at 4.17 a.m., the Prime Minister will be at the mission control centre from 6.45 am to watch the crucial operation when the spacecraft main engine will be fired at 7.17 am to carry it through the region to enter the Martian orbit by 7.53 a.m.," an official said.

The project that started off on November 5, 2013 from spaceport Sriharikota off the Bay of Bengal, about 80 km northeast of Chennai, has gained the eyeballs of millions wishing for its success.

Out of the 51 missions, only 21 have succeeded till now. The first Chinese mission to Mars called Yinghuo-1 failed in 2011 alongside the Russian Phobos-Grunt mission with which it was launched. Japan's first Mars orbiter, Nozomi launched in 1998, ran out of fuel and was lost. And now it's India's turn to become the first Asian nation to reach Mars.

Looking at the success rate of such missions, Mars Orbiter Mission's success will be worth watching as it will showcase India's efficiency and expertise in this field that too on its maiden attempt.

There are three more satellites already circling the planet - NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and Mars Odyssey, and the ESA's Mars Express. On the Martian surface, NASA's Curiosity and Opportunity rovers are rolling across the rocky terrain.

ISRO has said the spacecraft - also called Mangalyaan, meaning "Mars craft" in Hindi - 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.

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.