Mars Orbiter Mission has made us proud

Sci Tech Oct 31, 2014

In a dominated world of trivia and trash in media, on 24th September 2014, there appeared a change  almost everywhere – occasional corruption replaced by cheers for the nation, accidents by an incident, usual conviction by acquittance, pessimism by optimism, and retaliation by pardoning. Did some miracle happen here? Yes, it did. For once, all the misgivings everyone seemed to have been suddenly forgotten as the nation as one drowned in one big wave of celebration.

The speculations in India did not arise due to any economic or political episodes, but it has something to do with the aspirations of human beings since time immemorial. The voyage into the unknown and the inquisitive quest for knowledge has always topped our endeavours. Among those infinite mysteries, the one that has constantly baffled our ancients for ages has been the red dot in the night sky. The conjecture centering the collapsed cloud of dust and gas is not a new one and just the thought of the possibilities of life- intelligent life- there gives us goose bumps. I have not happened to come across any person who begs to differ. Thus, the righteously named mission “MOM” (Mars Orbiter Mission) set out for the same purpose and it has tremendously and accurately succeeded in doing so.

“We have dared to reach into the unknown and have achieved the near impossible”

These were apt words from our Prime Minister, Mr. Narendra Modi on the success of the Mangalyaan mission.

What exactly is MOM?

It is an orbiter that orbits Mars instead of the Earth, as in the case of satellites. The main objective of Mangalyaan was to primarily help us design and plan future interplanetary missions, and to demonstrate our technological abilities. The spacecraft carried five payloads on its back for providing much needed scientific data to decode the swirling mysteries. It might help us find out how Mars lost its liquid water, whether life existed before on Mars (by sensing methane in Mars’s thin atmosphere, as methane is a solid evidence of any life form- even microbial life- which exists or existed in a planet), and map its thermal, mineral and atmospheric composition.

Mangalyaan is an ingeniously built orbiter, which was launched from the SatishDawan Space Center in Sriharikota on November 5, 2013 at 1.38 PM (IST). Unfortunately, the required power to propel it directly into an interplanetary path couldn’t be provided by GSLV (Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle) as it was not ready for launch after two attempts which ended in vain, due to cryogenic issues. So, less powerful Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) – C25 was used to put the MOM to the geocentric, low earth orbit, where it was thrust to higher altitudes by a series of Earth based maneuvers before injecting it into heliocentric, trans-mars orbit on December 1,2013.

Throughout the mission, the scientists at ISRO were constantly shifting their seats in what was 298 days of high anticipation while MOM seamlessly floated through the interplanetary maze without any happening. This absence of jeopardy was made true with the ingeniously designed automation system of its own, which gave it a good deal of autonomy in dealing contingencies. This was very crucial to the mission’s success because the communication gap is about 40 minutes between the orbiter and the telemetry systems in Earth. This means that it would take about 20 minutes for the information from the Earth to reach the spacecraft and the same time for the orbiter to relay the facts and figures to the base. Before anyone here knows something has gone wrong with the orbiter, it would already be in pieces or way off the correct path.

After what seemed almost like an era, the Liquid Apogee motor and eight small thrusters ignited simultaneously at 7:17:32 a.m. (IST) exactly, correcting the trajectory to intersect the Mars’s orbit. The scientists were on their toes when the communication blackout occurred as the spacecraft moved behind Mars for about 13 minutes. When the firing ended, the spacecraft successfully acquired the required velocity reduction of 1.099 Km/s which was required to put the Mars orbiter into the Martian orbit.

What makes this feat stand out?

India is the fourth member to join this elite club of the countries successful in reaching the Mars orbit. But, there have been three other countries before us. So, what’s all the buzz about? Well, to start with, India is the only country to succeed in putting an orbiter to Mars’s orbit in the first try, and the only Asian country to do so. But, most importantly, the whole mission had been planned and worked out with a budget of $74 million. This is much less than the budget of many Bollywood movies and significantly the movie “Gravity”. The figures only look sweeter when compared to U.S Maven with a budget of $671 million and ESA’s Mars Express Orbiter with $386 million. Since there may not be any commercial profit in these missions right now, and with the private sector taking the backseat, I sincerely concede that this is one necessarily incredible feat, only made possible by our scientists. As mentioned, the deep-space communication is a tricky issue. ISRO just whooped across the issue by the brilliant automated manoeuvring system and path correction propulsion systems designed by our scientists. The pride resides in the fact that all of the components, including the critical metrological instruments were made indigenously.

This feat only gets extraordinary considering the speed with which the project was completed. While NASA took 6 years to complete its Martian project, we have managed to complete it in approximately 1.5 years!

Hats off to people who made it work! All the glee that sprung up was the result of the hard work of lots and lots of dedicated scientists day and night, all over India for almost 2 years. It has boosted the confidence everyone had in India’s capability, and more explicitly, in ISRO.

“You have to dream, before your dreams come true.” - A.P.J Abdul Kalam

While many of us dreamed of joining NASA in our childhood, India is making sure that this generation and forth on the kids will be yearning to be in ISRO instead.

MOM has done a great deal in firing up the imaginations of thousands of unbridled young minds within which lies the key to a better tomorrow. Many  doubt whether ISRO can match the standards of the other space agencies. Well, the 44-year old agency is  growing remarkably and I am one among those who are greedily waiting to see the day when other space agencies will compare themselves to ISRO. While it’s easier said than done, the future of our country and hence our lives lies in our own hands and the responsibility is thus installed on ourselves. Thus, this remarkable deed enlightens us about our dormant potentials and the very profound possibility of converting India into a super nation, making it possible to relive the glorious days of India, once again.


Adithan K

Along with Adithiyajothiram L

Adithan is a high-spirited reader and enthusiastic gamer, who enjoys occasional coding, out-of-the box thinking, and is awed by the very twisted fibre of nature and by the engineering environment.