India recently made history, when its
Mars Orbiter Mission successfully entered the Martian orbit. In doing so, it
became the first country to enter Mars’ orbit on its first attempt and
also the first Asian country to reach the red planet.
Missions to Mars have rarely been
successful. Before India’s Mangalyaan (Sanskrit for
Mars-craft), only the United States, the Soviet Union, and Europe had entered
Mars orbit. India is part of an elite club.
What makes India’s Mars mission all
the more remarkable is its low cost. With a price tag of just $70 million, it
is the least expensive inter-planetary mission ever.
The U.S. Maven orbiter, which arrived at Mars two days before Mangalyaan, cost
NASA a whopping $671 million in comparison.
Experts have pointed out that the
enormous cost difference between Mangalyaan and Maven is because the Indian
Mars-craft is far simpler than Maven. “They’ve kept it small,” Andrew Coates,
who will be a principal investigator on Europe’s Mars rover in 2018, said of
the Indian Mars mission. “The payload weighs only about 15kg. Compare that with
the complexity in the payload in Maven and that will explain a lot about the
Smaller and simpler than Maven it may
be but Mangalyaan will contribute to understanding of the red planet. It has
gone armed with instruments that will search for methane, a key target in the
search for life on Mars.