Mars is no place for the faint-hearted. Arid, rocky, cold and apparently lifeless, the Red Planet offers few hospitalities. Yet, some of the nations with rocket-sending capabilities are ever eager to explore and ultimately step foot on the ultimate lonely planet destination. This is because like Earth, this fourth planet from the Sun has polar ice caps and clouds in its atmosphere, seasonal weather patterns, volcanoes and other recognisable features. Most important, the objective is to find whether there is life on Mars. After all, a quest for a possible human habitat on Mars has always been there.
In sync with this line of thought, India is gearing up for its first ever space undertaking to the Red Planet. An Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) spacecraft that will examine the finer details of Mars in unprecedented detail, is set to be launched tomorrow atop India’s highly reliable Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) from a seaside launch pad in Sriharikota. The new space initiative, dubbed the Mars Orbiter Mission, is the brainchild of ISRO. If the PSLV does not go up before November 19,
ISRO has to wait for another five years to get similar conditions.
Internationally, so far only five other space agencies have been able to send up missions to Mars—and about half of the 45-odd mission sent up have failed to even reach Mars. A NASA spacecraft that will probe the upper atmosphere of Mars is also undergoing final preparations and is expected to be launched on November 18 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. But India’s first step to another planet is exciting not just because it’s a first, but because it’s one that will keep the scientist community on edge for all of nine months, until the spacecraft actually reaches its spot around Mars.
The Rs 450-crore, 1,350 kilogram orbiter, also known as ‘Mangalyaan’, will conduct a highly valuable search for potential signatures of Martian methane—which could stem from either living or non-living sources. The historic Mars bound probe also serves as a forerunner to bolder robotic exploration goals. The Indian space agency’s quest is to find signs of life on Mars and learn some lessons possibly. The principal aim is to test out India’s space technology to see if this emerging space-faring nation is capable of interplanetary missions. The spacecraft will also collect scientific information about the planet’s atmosphere and surface.
Interestingly, the cost of the Indian