Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced that India will be sending a mission to Mars in an operation which will cost Rs. 450 crore as per an ISRO proposal which was recently approved by the cabinet. Dr. Singh made the announcement from Red Fort as he was addressing the country on completing 65th years of independence and said "This spaceship to Mars will be a huge step for us in the area of science and technology".
Called Mangalyaan, the Mars Orbiter Mission will involve sending a spaceship which will orbit around the red planet in a bid to collect scientific information and other data. The spacecraft will be launched via India’s own Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) which has been in operation since the early nineties.
Despite a failed first mission, the PSLV has successfully launched more than 25 Indian satellites into space. Its latest launch attempt on 26 April 2012 to put India’s RISAT-1 into space was termed a ‘grand success’ by K. Radhakrishnan, Chairman of ISRO, reported The Hindu.
India’s spacecraft to Mars is expected to be launched in November 2013 and will take more than 300 days to enter the red planet’s atmosphere. Whilst in orbit, the spacecraft’s 25 kg scientific payload will study Mars’ climate, geology and possibility of life or organic molecules.
Mars, the closest planet to earth, has been subject to numerous missions since almost 50 years. Since the sixties, Russia and USA amongst few other countries have sent many successful and unsuccessful orbiters, landers and rovers to the red planet. In fact earlier this month, NASA’s Curiosity rover landed on Mars after nearly 9 months and transmitted back the first colour pictures of the planet.
The PM’s announcement of India’s mission to Mars has garnered mixed responses. One Twitter user tweeted ‘India Planning a Mission to Mars in 2013, Seems Way Too Optimistic’ while many others voiced concern about the country spending Rs. 450 crore on the mission as opposed to looking into providing support to the economy during challenging times. The pessimism about skewed priorities is not unfounded as India prepares for a possible drought like situation as rainfall has been less than average in many parts of the country. Interestingly, NASA’s curiosity cost them close to USD 2.5 billion dollars compared to less than 100 million expected spend for Mangalyaan.
Despite the critical reactions, there is little denying that Mangalyaan is a very progressive step forward in many ways. If successful, India will be among the only 5 nations who have done so. More importantly it will become Asia’s first country to do so, stamping its presence as an Asian superpower. In 1998, Japan unsuccessfully tried to send its orbiting probe Nozomi to Mars. Recently in 2011, China launched its own explorer Yinghuo-1 to Mars however the spaceship fell back to earth.
Only a handful of nations have even attempted sending any kind of spaceship to the red planet. The mission itself is a significant leap forward in science and technology for a country whose per capita income levels are behind more than 100 other countries according to various agencies.