On November 5, 2013 at 09:08 GMT, the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) successfully launched its maiden mission to the Red Planet. The launch took place according to schedule, 15 months after it was announced by the Indian government. The project is being referred to as the Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM).
As can be inferred from the title, the goal of the mission is to put a satellite in Martian orbit. The first stage, that is the launch, has been achieved; but there is still a long way to go before this satellite reaches Mars. It will take roughly 10 months to get there.
If all the stages go off without a hitch and the probe makes it to Mars, India’s space program will become the fourth in the world after those of USA, Russia and Europe to achieve the feat. The orbiter will gather data from Mars using five on-board instruments, the areas of focus include search for methane gas and analysis of the atmospheric make up of the planet; but there are a large number of variables associated with interplanetary travel, which means anything can go wrong, in fact the success rate for missions to Mars is less than 40%.
The project cost approximately $75 million, which is exceptionally cheap compared to others which have been and are being carried out by other space programs around the world.
As the chairman of the ISRO put it, “I don’t like the phrase ‘frugal engineering’. ISRO’s general philosophy is cost effectiveness. The Russians look for robustness and the Americans go after optimization. Our aim at ISRO was how we get the Mars mission done on a budget.”
On the international level, this project may significantly elevate India’s standing in space exploration programs. NASA has the MAVEN mission (which cost $671 million!) slated for a Nov. 18 launch, the mission has similar goals as those of MOM and both teams have shown interest in working in conjunction to augment the performance of their missions. Furthermore, India has been locked in a pseudo-space race with China for the last decade. While China’s space program does have an edge, if ISRO pulls off this mission, it will become the first Asian country to do so. Both China and Japan have already attempted missions to Mars without success.
So, where does Pakistan stand? How does this affect us? Well, recently this correspondent wrote about space travel and the role of Pakistan’s space agency, “Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission” (SUPARCO) was featured in it.
SUPARCO has been active for almost the same amount of time that ISRO has, but each has progressed at its own pace. While SUPARCO has focused mainly on telecommunication satellites, ISRO branched out sooner and has already carried out a successful lunar mission.
On the face of it, MOM is an excellent mission, completely planned and executed by a third world country. However, critics of the mission are pointing out that a country where millions live in poverty shouldn’t be wasting money on such endeavors. Critics believe that MOM will not help improve the situation of the common man.
The reason why Pakistan hasn’t seriously attempted such a mission so far is because it lacks the funds, support and expertise. It is not just a matter of blasting a rocket off into space, years of planning and preparation are required for which driven individuals have to step up.
While the author does not believe that the staff at SUPARCO is incompetent, the fact remains that the people at ISRO have displayed conviction and determination. ISRO’s MOM could become the key to achieve interplanetary travel on a relatively small budget.
Perhaps India’s Mars Orbiter Mission will force the Pakistani government into revitalizing its own space program.