India's First Mars Spacecraft on Track to Join MAVEN at Mars Tonight EDT

India's First Mars Spacecraft on Track to Join MAVEN at Mars Tonight EDT

India’s first Mars spacecraft, Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM), is on track to join NASA’s newly-arrived MAVEN spacecraft in Mars orbit tonight Eastern Daylight Time (EDT).  MAVEN successfully entered Mars orbit on Sunday (September 21).  Assuming all goes well with MOM, that will bring to five the number of operating spacecraft observing the Red Planet from orbit plus two on the surface.   India’s space agency will provide live coverage of MOM’s orbital insertion beginning at 9:15 pm EDT tonight, September 23 (06:45 September 24 local time in India).

India launched MOM on November 5, 2013.  It is primarily a technology demonstration mission, but it carries five scientific instruments including one that will search for methane in the Martian atmosphere.  MOM is sometimes referred to as Mangalyaan, but that is considered a nickname not the official name.

The mission has gone smoothly so far and if all continues as planned India will join the United States, Soviet Union/Russia, and the European Space Agency (ESA) as successful sponsors of spacecraft to study Mars.  Getting spacecraft to Mars is no mean feat and there have been many failures over the decades, prompting humorous myths about a “Galactic Ghoul” at the ready to destroy a mission at a moment’s notice. No one relaxes until the spacecraft is firmly at its destination in orbit or on the surface. 

NASA has a list of all Mars missions ever launched.  Based on that list and excluding MOM (since it is still enroute as of this moment) there have been 42 launches of which 23 were failures, 17 were successes, and 2 were partial successes/failures. 

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) will provide live coverage of the Mars Orbit Insertion (MOI) burn.  ISRO has tweeted (@isro) two locations to watch the coverage:  its own website ( and the government’s video portal (  Coverage begins at 9:15 pm EDT tonight, which is 06:45 September 24 Indian Standard Time (IST).  The burn itself is scheduled to begin at 9:47 pm EDT (07:17 September 24 IST).

NASA’s MAVEN was launched about a week and a half after MOM, but arrived two days earlier.  Its task is to determine what happened to the Martian atmosphere, which once was much thicker than it is today, especially the role that solar activity may have played, and to the liquid water believed to have flowed on Mars in the distant past.

MAVEN and MOM are joining two U.S. and one European spacecraft currently operating in Martian orbit:

  • NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), on station since 2006
  • NASA’s Mars Odyssey, on station since 2001
  • ESA’s Mars Express, on station since 2003

NASA also has two operational rovers on the surface of Mars:

  • Opportunity, which landed in 2004 (its sister, Spirit, no longer is functioning)
  • Curiosity, which landed in 2012

Japan is the only other country to attempt sending a probe to Mars.  It launched Nozomi in 1998, but it is among the list of Mars missions that did not succeed.  China has never itself attempted to launch a spacecraft to Mars, but a small Chinese orbiter (Yinghuo-1) was aboard the ill-fated Russian Phobos-Grunt mission in 2011.

User Comments has the right (but not the obligation) to monitor the comments and to remove any materials it deems inappropriate.  We do not post comments that include links to other websites since we have no control over that content nor can we verify the security of such links.