India Holds Its Breath As Orbiter Nears Mars

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India Holds Its Breath As Orbiter Nears Mars

India is on course to become the first nation to conduct a successful Mars mission at its first attempt.

If the Mars Orbiter Mission , nicknamed MOM, goes as planned, the country will join the US, Russia and Europe in the elite club of Martian explorers.

The next few hours will be crucial as the Indian Space and Research Organisation carries out a series of manoeuvres to put the spacecraft into its designated orbit around the Red Planet.

If the team of scientists succeed they will make history. More than half the previous missions – 23 out of 41 – have failed, including attempts by Japan in 1999 and China in 2011.

The orbiter reached the outer sphere of Mars’ gravitational pull on Monday after the main liquid engine fired successfully.

It had been dormant for 300 days as it travelled 666 million kilometres (413 million miles) since breaking free from earth’s gravitational sphere on December 1 .

The Indian space agency said MOM had a “perfect burn for four seconds as programmed” that adjusted the spaceship’s trajectory.

Indian officials have said the chief aim of the mission – which is costing around $75m (£46m) – is to showcase the country’s technological advances.

The orbiter will gather data to help scientists study Martian weather systems and ascertain what happened to its water. It will also look for methane, a key chemical in life processes on Earth.

US scientists were hugely relieved when Maven reached its destination after a journey that began almost a year ago.

It joined three other spacecraft, two American and one European, orbiting Mars.

The $671m mission is the first dedicated to studying the planet’s upper atmosphere and the latest step in Nasa’s bid to send astronauts to Mars in the 2030s.

Flight controllers in Colorado will spend the next six weeks adjusting Maven’s altitude and checking its science instruments, and observing a comet due to pass by at relatively close range.

In early November Maven will start probing the atmosphere, which scientists believe holds clues as to how Mars went from being warm and wet billions of years ago to cold and dry now.

They also hope to find out if there was microbial life on Mars during the earlier period.

Maven – short for Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Mission – will spend at least a year collecting data.

Nasa has two rovers on the surface – Curiosity and Opportunity, which is still active a decade after landing.



 

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