India's First Mars Mission Successfully Enters Orbit

India's First Mars Mission Successfully Enters Orbit

India’s first mission to Mars, the Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM), successfully went into orbit about Mars tonight (September 23) Eastern Daylight Time (September 24 local time in India).  It joins three U.S. and one European spacecraft already in orbit, plus two U.S. rovers on the surface.

MOM is primarily a technology demonstration project, though it carries five scientific instruments, including one to measure methane in the Martian atmosphere.

India’s Prime Minister, Shree Narendra Modi, was on hand at mission control as orbital insertion unfolded.   MOM’s engine firing began at 9:47 pm EDT, but with the  length of the burn and the 12.5 minute signal delay time, it was not until 10:30 pm EDT (8:00 am September 24 Indian Standard Time) that confirmation of successful orbital insertion was confirmed.  As this article was being published, no data on the spacecraft’s orbital parameters had been released.

Modi stressed that the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) is one of only four agencies to have successfully sent a spacecraft to Mars and asserted it is the only one to do so on the first try.  That claim is subject to challenge, however.  The European Space Agency (ESA) placed Mars Express into orbit in 2003.  That was ESA’s first attempt to achieve Mars orbit.  While it is true that Mars Express carried a small lander, Beagle 2, that did not achieve its goal of landing on Mars, if the measure is attaining Mars orbit on the first try, Mars Express certainly seems to fit the bill.  Landing on Mars is an entirely different kettle of fish and something that India has not yet attempted.

Regardless, India is justifiably proud of its achievement.  Getting to Mars is hard.  NASA’s list of all the 43 spacecraft launched to Mars by any country since the beginning of the space age shows 23 failures, 18 successes (counting MOM as a success), and two partial successes/failures.

MOM is sometimes called Mangalyaan, but that is a nickname, not an official name.  It joins ESA’s Mars Express and three NASA spacecraft — Mars Odyssey, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, and MAVEN — in orbit, plus two NASA rovers — Opportunity and Curiosity — on the surface.

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