India Becomes The First Asian Nation To Reach Mars And The First Country To Succeed On Its First Attempt

India's space program took a giant technological leap Wednesday by putting a satellite into orbit around Mars, making it the first in Asia and the only country to succeed on its first attempt.

Carried out on a shoestring budget, India's Mars mission has given the country bragging rights in a space race with China and Japan that could have political, military and scientific consequences.

"We have dared to reach out into the unknown and have achieved the near impossible," Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in a speech at mission control in Bangalore Wednesday. India's space program "is a shining symbol of what we are capable of as a nation."

The spacecraft called Mangalyaan, Hindi for Mars craft, entered Mars orbit early Wednesday after a 10-month voyage from Earth.

India spent $74 million on its Mars Orbiter Mission, a fraction of the $671 million it cost the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to send its latest probe, Maven, to Mars and cheaper than other similar voyages.

To hold costs down, India relied on technologies it has used before and saved on fuel by using a smaller rocket to put its spacecraft into Earth orbit first to gain enough momentum to slingshot it toward Mars.

Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan, senior fellow in space-security studies at the Observer Research Foundation, a New Delhi think tank, said the successful mission "put India in the big league."

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi congratulates Indian Space Research Organization scientists after the successful entering of the Indian Mars Orbiter into the Mars orbit. Eeuropean Pressphoto Agency
"This is a major strategic coup for India," said Ms. Rajagopalan, giving it an edge over China in interplanetary exploration. "In all other things, China is past competing with India, but here, we are ahead, that's why they are keen to cooperate with us."

During Chinese President Xi Jinping's visit to India last week, the two countries agreed to collaborate in space, including in the research and development of satellites for scientific experiments, remote sensing and communications.

Hua Chunying, a spokeswoman for China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, congratulated India on Wednesday. "It's a pride of India, pride of Asia and is also a landmark progress in humankind's exploration of outer space," Ms. Hua said.

India, which currently has around 35 satellites in Earth orbit for communication, television broadcasting and remote sensing, last year launched its first military satellite to gather naval intelligence.

Staff from the Indian Space Research Organization celebrated Wednesday after the Mars Orbiter spacecraft went into orbit around Mars. Agence France-Presse/Getty Images
Overall, India has launched 74 satellites since 1975, according to ISRO. The country is gaining increasing recognition worldwide as a low-cost option for sending satellites into orbit.

India's Mars mission—which took just four years from an initial feasibility study to arrival in orbit—will study the surface of the planet to establish the presence of methane, among other tasks. The primary aim of the mission, though, was to see if India had the technological capability to get there.

Space law experts said India's success could spark new debate on how countries set rules governing resources in outer space.

Ram Jakhu, a professor at the Institute of Air and Space Law at McGill University in Canada, said India now has the authority to contribute to discussions on the exploitation of minerals such as platinum that could be found in space.

Indian scientists and engineers of the Indian Space Research Organization monitor the satellite Mars Orbiter Mission Mangalyaan probe put into orbit around Mars on Wednesday. European Preessphoto Agency
India has signed but not ratified the so-called Moon Treaty, which governs the exploitation of resources on the moon and planets.

Just over a dozen countries are bound by the United Nations treaty, which agrees to extract resources in space only for scientific research and maintenance of their missions.

Ajey Lele, a researcher at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, a New Delhi think tank, said reaching Mars orbit would boost Indian morale, "but we need to do something Earth-shattering like a manned mission or a moon landing to make a geopolitical difference."

Source: Wall Street Journal
Technology 7146183446200623271

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