Scripting space history, India on Wednesday successfully placed its low-cost Mars spacecraft in orbit around the red planet in its very first attempt, breaking into an elite club of three nations.
The Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) spacecraft kept its tryst with the red planet after the hibernating main 440 Newton Liquid Apogee Motor (LAM) and eight thrusters on board were ignited for 24-minutes from 7.17am that slowed its benumbing speed to be smoothly captured into the Martian orbit.
The make-or-break tricky manoeuvre carried out with clockwork precision on the refrigerator sized spacecraft as planned was watched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who exultantly described it as “a historic occasion”, saying the country has achieved the “near impossible”.
“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 said, declaring the mission’s success after nerve-wracking final moments at Indian Space Research Organization’s command centre in Bangalore.
The speed of the spacecraft was reduced from 22.14 kilometres per second to 4.4 kilometres per second at the ultimate point in its 666 million-km-long travel in relation to the red planet to be captured by the Martian orbit.
“Images are clicked. Data is downloaded. Process is going on,” a top Isro official said in the evening when asked whether the spacecraft has taken pictures of the Mars surface.
The Rs 450 crore MOM Mangalyaan is the cheapest inter-planetary mission that, at just $74 million, costs less than the estimated $100 million budget of the sci-fi blockbuster “Gravity” and a tenth of Nasa’s Mars mission Maven that entered the Martian orbit on September 22.
Scientists broke into wild cheers and congratulated each other after the 1,350kg spacecraft was manoeuvred into its designated place, a feat that makes India 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 Mars mission, called Yinghuo-1, failed in 2011. In 1998, the Japanese mission ran out of fuel and was lost.
Modi, who wore a red jacket, 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, after patting the back of Isro chairman K Radhakrishnan and effusively praising Isro for making space history.
The LAM, last fired on December 1, 2013, was successfully fired for 3.968 seconds at 2.30pm IST today, Isro said in a statement.
It said this operation of the spacecraft’s main liquid engine was also used for the spacecraft’s trajectory correction and changed its velocity by 2.18 metres per second.
With this successful test firing, Mars Orbiter Insertion (MOI) operation of the spacecraft is scheduled to be performed on September 24 at 07:17:32 hrs IST by firing the LAM along with eight smaller liquid engines for about 24 minutes, it added.
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