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 cost,” hetold the BBC.

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.


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