India Orbits Mars

As a child of the 60s I grew up with Apollo missions and moon landings. The “space race”, a extension of Cold War posturing between twitchy Russian and American super powers. Captain James T. Kirk tempting imagination with “space, the final frontier”, science fiction, Eric Von Danekin’s Chariots of the Gods, and explosive technology. Despite jaw wagging possibilities – the heart of the matter fell squarely on two players – the U.S. and Russia.

In awe of the cosmos, obsessed with space weather, fascinated by ancient astronomers, oblivious to snickers and rolling eyes when opportunities allow me to enthuse over solar activity, planetary alignments, space missions and cosmic discoveries – it would be fair to say I know a thing or two about the universe. The era of U.S./Russian domination passed years ago. Thousands of satellites and probes – represented by China, Japan, and Europe, jostle the old guard for a place in space. Considering myself “up” on space exploration, came to a crashing halt with today’s gadzooks moment.

India’s Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) settled into a perfect Martian orbit. India has a space program? Yikes, not only did I miss the launch, I missed the entire Indian space program.

India launched Martian probe Mangalyaan on November 5, 2013. Ten months and 400 million miles later – India joined America, Russia and Europe in the Mars club. Not only was the ISRO (Indian Space Research Organization) first attempt successful, they pulled it off for a paltry $74 million dollars. Compare that to NASA’s Maven Mars mission at $671 million, or the European Space Agency’s Mars Express Orbiter at $386 million, and you have something to ponder.

Equipped with cameras and methane gas sensors, Mangalyaan politely settled into Martian orbit – cementing India’s place in interstellar exploration. Kudos India – you have my full attention.