Everyone sat glued to their seats, anxious and tense at the Mission Operations Complex-2 (MOX-2), the nerve entre of India’s Mars mission on Wednesday morning. There was just one question on everybody’s mind: will it happen?
The answer came through Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) Chairman K. Radhakrishnan’s intercom. Mission Director V. Kesava Raju had given the thumbs up. The Chairman nodded calmly, went up to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and spoke a few words. A jubilant Mr. Modi hugged him, raised a fist and patted him on the back.
The gesture made it official. At 7.59 a.m., India had accomplished a gigantic feat of putting a spacecraft in orbit around Mars in its first attempt.
Around 150 ISRO engineers at MOX-2 and the neighbouring Mission Analysis Centre (MOX-1), where the media waited, broke into applause. “MOM successfully enters Martian orbit,” ISRO flashed on its monitors.
Dr. Radhakrishnan later told The Hindu, “We have done our best. India is great.”
The tryst with the Red Planet came 10 months after the ISRO launched its first orbiter to Mars on November 5 last year. But the final critical moment was at 7.17 a.m., when the main Liquid Apogee Motor (LAM) and the eight small thrusters on the orbiter ignited simultaneously and enabled the crucial manoeuvre.
All the engines fired flawlessly for 24 minutes and reduced the spacecraft’s velocity by 1.09 km per second; this contained the spacecraft in an orbit around Mars.
Praise for feat
Mr. Modi commended the ISRO scientists on “their incredible” feat. “MOM has met Mars. India has successfully reached Mars. History has been created today. We have reached the unknown and achieved the impossible,” he exulted.
“I am living my dream,” said MOM Project Director S. Arunan. Mr. Kesavara Raju called it “a great achievement for the country.”
The former Soviet Union and the U.S, who began their Mars pursuits in the 1960s, as well as Japan and China, failed in their first attempt to put their spacecraft into Martian orbit. The US Mariner-3 failed in 1964 and the Japanese Nozomi did not make it in 1998. Russia’s Phobos-Grunt mission, with a Chinese payload, failed in 2011.