Wednesday, September 24, 2014

On a Shoestring, India Sends Orbiter to Mars


Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India, onscreen, addressed researchers and scientists in Bangalore after the Mars Orbiter successfully entered the red planet's orbit.

An Indian spacecraft affectionately nicknamed MOM reached Mars orbit on Wednesday, beating India’s Asian rivals to the Red Planet and outdoing the Americans, the Soviets and the Europeans in doing so on a maiden voyage and a shoestring budget. 

An ebullient Prime Minister Narendra Modi was on hand at the Indian Space Research Organization’s command center in Bangalore for the early-morning event and hailed it “as a shining symbol of what we are capable of as a nation.”

“The odds were stacked against us,” Mr. Modi, wearing a red Nehru vest, said in a televised news conference. “When you are trying to do something that has not been attempted before, it is a leap into the unknown. And space is indeed the biggest unknown out there.”

Children across India were asked to come to school by 6:45 a.m. Wednesday, well before the usual starting time, to watch the historic event on state television.

The Mars Orbiter Mission, or MOM, was intended mostly to prove that India could succeed in such a highly technical endeavor — and to beat China. As Mr. Modi and others have noted, India’s trip to Mars, at a price of $74 million, cost less than the Hollywood movie “Gravity.” NASA’s almost simultaneous — and far more complex — mission to Mars cost $671 million.

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