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    India’s Mission to Mars: New Contender in Asian Space Race or Technological Breakthrough?

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    India’s first Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) is ready to enter the Red Planet’s orbit on September 24, after a ten-month journey through space.

    MOSCOW, September 17 (RIA Novosti) - India’s first Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) is ready to enter the Red Planet’s orbit on September 24, after a ten-month journey through space.

    The Indian Space Research Organization says that India will be the first country in the world to insert a spacecraft into Martian orbit in its first try if the operation succeeds.  This will also make India the first Asian country to reach Mars.

    Jim Bell, a Professor at the School of Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State University, an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Astronomy at Cornell University, and a Distinguished Visiting Scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California is also convinced that it is a great way for India “to demonstrate their technology, their ability to launch a spacecraft and to operate it at Mars.”

    “As I’ve said, it is a very difficult thing – half of the missions have failed. It is hard to do and in case they do it, they would be in an exclusive club of nations,” he told Radio VR.

    Prof. Bell also explained that the Mission is not trying to land, but will just remain in orbit for hopefully a year or more. They have some instruments to measure the Martian atmosphere, and they are in a different kind of orbit from some of the previous missions that have been there, so they will be measuring different parts of the atmosphere, in different ways.

    They will be looking for methane gas; some have speculated that it may exist in the Martian atmosphere and may provide evidence that life may have once existed on the surface of Mars or could still exist under the surface of the planet – that would be an interesting measurement for them to make, he said.

    They also have a camera for taking pictures of the surface, looking at changes in the surface – dust storms and sand dunes and the like. So, they will have a unique perspective compared to other missions in space. While the mission is mostly geared at demonstrating Indian technology in order to prove they can get there and operate successfully, it will be great if they can provide scientific results as well, he added.

    On September 21, three days before the MOM, NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft is also expected to enter Martian orbit.

    However, Prof. Bell is convinced that there is no conflict of interests.

    “It is similar to the rocket launches from Earth,” he explained, “putting satellites in orbit around the Earth. There are three orbiters right now actively orbiting Mars - two US and one European orbiter. And the new US orbiter called MAVEN is to get there also next week, and it will be in a different orbit, and India’s mission will get there next week in a different orbit. There is plenty of room, space is big, the positions that these spacecraft [maintain] have been coordinated so they won’t have orbits that are close to each other, just like with Earth-orbiting satellites – it is all coordinated so that each of them occupies its own particular place. “

    Dr. Morris Jones, a space science commentator and writer, explained to Radio VR that there was a purely technical reason why both missions are set to arrive at Martian orbit at practically the same time.

    “The reason these missions are both arriving at orbit roughly at the same time is because of orbital mechanics,” he said. “They were both launched at roughly the same time when the Earth and Mars were in a very good position for flying quickly between the two planets; that’s why you see more than one mission flying to Mars.”

    The cost of the project is surprisingly low: 4.5 billion rupees, or $70 million, not at all pricey compared to America’s space ventures. For comparison, NASA spent $671 million on its MAVEN spacecraft.

    Prof. Bell thinks that if India’s Mission is successful, it will demonstrate that lower-cost ways to get there are possible and feasible.

    “It opens up space exploration to more countries who can’t afford to spend giant fractions of their gross national product on space exploration but who want to spend the most [they can] to demonstrate that they are technologically advanced, to demonstrate that they have the capability to be space nation,” he said.

    “And this is important, this is extremely inspirational to the citizens of a nation. It means the inspiration, motivation and education it provides, especially to the young people in countries that do this. It is just incredibly valuable. It inspires people to go on to understand science and technology, engineering and mathematics, and computers that will lift up the whole country technologically in ways that are very intangible,” he added.

    Dr. Jones, however, thinks that we are seeing the makings of a new space race; not between the US and Russia but between the countries of Asia.

    “I think that what we are seeing these days in the 21 century is a new space race, mostly happening in Asia, between nations like China and Japan and India and even South Korea, who want to send a probe to the Moon,” he says. “We see that nations which did not have much of a presence in space several decades ago are now asserting their economic development and their technological development by staging a new space race.”                   

    Tags:
    Life on Mars, Mars Exploration Program, Mars, space, Radio VR, NASA
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