MOM’s one year in space: ISRO to rejoice quietly

In this photo released by the ISRO on September 25, 2014, the surface of Mars is seen from a height of 7300m in the first image taken by the MOM spacecraft.  

year back on September 24, the country’s space scientists made history by precisely slotting the first Indian Mars spacecraft around the red planet — with just a long-haul ‘nudge’ to it.

As the Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) completes one year of orbiting around Mars, its parent, the Indian Space Research Organisation, millions of kilometres away on Earth, soberly marks MOM’s first Martian birthday as a low-key internal affair.

Right from building the spacecraft to its 10-month space journey in a watertight schedule, the unprecedented one-shot success of MOM has gone down more as a management marvel than an engineering one. For, opportunities to send missions to Mars come up once in about 26 months. If ISRO had missed launching it on November 5, 2013 and reaching it to Mars on September 24, 2014, the next best date would have been in 2017–18.

“It is a happy occasion. On this day we are only releasing an atlas of new and old colour pictures sent by the Mars Colour Camera on the spacecraft,” said ISRO Chairman A.S. Kiran Kumar.

When the mission was on, he was the Director of Space Applications Centre, Ahmedabad, which built the instruments on MOM.

As the low-profile Chairman of the Mission Review Committee, he is also credited by MOM’s many teams as the man who quietly steered the Rs. 450-crore mission to success with frequent brainstorming, meticulous reviews and conjuring up critical alternative plans.

Mr. Kiran Kumar, who is also Secretary, Department of Space, told The Hindu , “MOM was a great programme that surpassed all our initial expectations, outlived its intended life of six months and survived solar [blackout in June]. The experience was stimulating as it showed us so many possibilities of doing things. It adds to our confidence as it [validated] all the plans to build a spacecraft [that can] survive difficult conditions on the way to Mars and near it.”

Attributing the success to good planning, he said, “All that we visualised has come true. We now look forward to seeing its data coming in for a long time about both the Martian surface and atmosphere.”

No other country or agency has achieved the feat in its first attempt although Soviet Russia, the U.S. and the European Space Agency have sent 52 missions to Mars, including failures, since the 1960s. NASA sent MAVEN around the same time as MOM.

With 35 kg of fuel still left, MOM is expected to go elliptically around Mars for many years.

We now look forward to seeing its data coming in for a long time about both the Martian surface and atmosphere