Sunday, November 03, 2013

India counts minutes for milestone Mars mission launch

PSLV after heat shield closure (Pic: ISRO)

MUMBAI (AA) – At 6.08am on Sunday, four minutes after the sunrise, the 3,390-minute official countdown for the launch of India’s first inter-planetary satellite Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) began at Satish Dhawan Space Center in Sriharikota, a barrier island off the coast of the southern state of Andhra Pradesh.
"The countdown started as per schedule and it is running smoothly," an official with the Indian Space Research Organization of (ISRO), India’s space agency, told Anadolu Agency, refusing to be named.
At 2.38pm on Tuesday November 5, the 1350-kilogram MOM - an unmanned spacecraft - will be launched from an Indian-made Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV C25) to Mars, when the red planet will be closest to the earth.
ISRO sources told AA that it is expected to take about 40 minutes to inject the satellite into Earth’s orbit after the take-off.
If successfully launched, MOM, or Mangalyaan as it is called in India, is expected to go around the Earth for 25 days before embarking on a nine-month space travel to Mars on December 1.
It is expected to reach the red planet orbit on September 24, 2014.
The closest distance between Mars and Earth is 56.4 million kilometers.
On November 1, decks were cleared for the launch after a successful launch rehearsal a day earlier.
Mangalyaan has a launch window between October 28 and November 19.
ISRO earlier scrapped the scheduled date of launch on October 28 because of bad weather in the Bay of Bengal.
In 2008, India launched a mission to Moon Chandrayaan-1.
That mission encountered a number of technical difficulties and operated for less than one year, instead of the planned two years. 
Chandrayaan-1 had scientific instruments from a number of countries, including the US, one of which – NASA’s Moon Mineralogy Mapper -- detected water on the lunar surface. 
The MOM instruments are all from India.
It carries a color camera, a thermal infrared spectrometer, the Mars exospheric neutral composition analyzer and a lyman alpha photometer.
If Mangalyaan is successful, India will join the elite club of space powers to have explored the Red Planet.
Out of total 51 missions to Mars, only 21 have been successful.
In 1999, Japan’s Nozomi Mars spacecraft failed in its bid to orbit the planet while in 2011 China’s Yinghuo-1 Mars orbiter was destroyed when its carrier spacecraft — Russia’s Phobos-Grunt — failed to leave Earth orbit.
Indian's Mars Mission is being done in collaboration with NASA, which will provide tracking assistance to ISRO using the Deep Space Network.
"This is just a revolutionary step towards space invention," Professor Upendra Lad, Head, Department of Physics at Associate Professor Studied at MSG Arts Commerce and Science College, told AA.
When asked about the amount of money India is spending on this mission – estimated at $70 million - given the abject poverty in India and the number of Indians living under the below poverty line, he dismissed the comparison.
"It’s foolhardy to evaluate this mission in terms of extravagant space spending and growing poverty. One never knows the impact and future gain of the mission," he asserted.
Mujahid Ansari, assistant professor at the department of chemistry, AIT College of Arts, Commerce and Science, agrees.
"There may not be any immediate gain of Mars mission as space exploration is a time-consuming process," he told AA, dismissing the unwarranted criticism of the space mission.
"Bringing in the poverty politics into science, technology and space exploration is a reflection of a sick and hypocritical mind," Ansari insisted.
He cited the recent coal allocation scam in India where the Comptroller and Auditor General put the loss to public exchequer at $28 billion.
"Did anybody raise and compare India’s poverty when CAG tabled its report in Indian parliament stating $28 billion loss?" Ansari fumed.
When asked whether India’s mission to Mars is a desire to beat China, Ansari dismissed the suggestions.
"It is purely driven by science and nothing else. If in doing so, India overtakes China in space exploration, why make a fuss about it?" he said.
Some experts believe that MOM focuses more on technological than scientific objectives but Ansari disagrees.
"It is harmonious balance between technology and science. MOM will not only demonstrate the capability to enter Mars orbit but it will also search for methane in the Martian atmosphere," he argued.
Presence or detection of methane is potential sign that life may have once existed on Mars.

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