India's First Mars Mission Off to a Good Start

India's First Mars Mission Off to a Good Start

India successfully launched its first mission to Mars early this morning.  The Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) is now in Earth orbit and will conduct a series of orbit raising maneuvers before setting off on the journey to Mars on December 1.

The mission, also called Mangalyaan, lifted off from India’s Sriharikota launch site at 4:08 am Eastern Standard Time (EST) today (2:48 pm Indian Standard Time, which is 10 hours 30 minutes ahead of EST) aboard India’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV).  Arrival at Mars is expected September 24, 2014. 

MOM is primarily a technology demonstration mission to prove that India can get a spacecraft to Mars, but it also carries five scientific instruments, including one that will search for methane in the Martian atmosphere.

The United States, Soviet Union/Russia and Europe have all successfully placed spacecraft into Martian orbit.  A Japanese Mars probe launched in 1998 (Nozomi) suffered several failures along the way and did not achieve Mars orbit.  A small Chinese satellite (Yinghuo-1) piggybacked on a Russian Mars probe launched in 2011, but that spacecraft, Phobos-Grunt, failed to leave Earth orbit and reentered. 

If this mission succeeds, India thus will become the first Asian country to place a spacecraft in orbit around Mars, but as every country that has attempted this feat knows, it’s a long treacherous journey and launch is merely one step.

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