When the nation is grappling with issues such as widespread poverty, malnutrition, abnormal sex ratios, the devaluating rupee, corruption and incessant cases of all forms of heinous crimes, what reason are we left with to be proud of our country? Do we have absolutely any lines up our sleeve that can be readily darted at innocently ignorant outsiders when they ask us what is it that our country has done in the recent past that we can say we are proud of? Well, looks like a 1000 strong team of scientists at the Indian Space Research Organisation have taken care of that. ‘Mangalyaan’ as it has been popularly or informally named or the Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) is all set to be launched from the Satish Dhawan Space Center SHAR, Sriharikota on November 5th at 14:36 hrs IST. Here is a list of 5 things you ought to know about ‘Mangalyaan’ —
1. That coveted fourth spot is ours!
The Indian Space Research Organisation will be the fourth space agency in the world (if the mission is successful) after NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration), the ESA (European Space Agency) and the ROSCOSMOS (Russian Federal Space Agency) to send a spacecraft to the Red Planet.
After the kind of success that Chandrayaan—1 achieved in 2008, high hopes have been pinned on the Mars Orbiter for it promises to take India a step ahead in the study of deep space research. Also, if this mission is successful (the scientists at ISRO are very certain it will be) the world will be forced to sit up and take notice of the increasing capability of the country to carry out such ambitious interplanetary missions. We are also likely to win brownie points with this mission as it will give us a strong position in the ongoing Asian Space Race.
2. MENCA will tell us ‘Kya hai aur kitna hai!’
I remember that Maruti Suzuki advertisement where the customers keep asking ‘kitna deti hai?’ and how India is obsessed with mileage and more importantly hard core quantitative facts. Only numbers satiate our curiosity and affects our judgment when we analyse things like cricket, the share market or well, rocket science. Although it would be difficult to get to know what the orbiter’s mileage is since it is travelling a good 400 million kms., the scientists have done a great job at inventing something as useful as MENCA (Mars Exospheric Neutral Composition Analyser) which will for the first time map the densities and compositions of lighter atoms like helium, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, carbon 200 kms above the surface of Mars. It will be a huge step towards getting to know the atmosphere around the planet.
3. NALANDA is the cause for delay.
Earlier the probe was to have been launched on October 28, but due to bad weather in the Pacific, it has been delayed for a week. Two ships, Yamuna and Nalanda, have been deployed to Fiji to track the spacecraft after it has been launched. Yamuna has already reached Fiji but weather has delayed Nalanda. These ships will be carrying powerful radars to monitor the rocket, since it would be cruising at altitudes not reachable by the ground stations for close to 20 minutes. These ships will play a crucial role in relaying important information about the spacecraft’s condition after it has been launched. Once the probe is in outer space it will be monitored by ISRO’s space tracking facility at Bayalalu in Karnataka.
4. Deimos and Phobos? A Picture Please?
Another instrument that is a highlight of the five instruments that constitutes the payload of the spacecraft is the MCC or the Mars Color Camera which is a tri colour camera that gives images and information about the surface features and compositions of the Martian surface. They will be useful in monitoring the weather on Mars. MCC will be most importantly used to probe the two satellites of the Red Planet — Phobos and Deimos.
The MOM is also going to be looking for Methane on the exosphere or the outer atmosphere of Mars with the help of the MSM (Methane Sensors for Mars). Although NASA’s ‘Curiosity’ has denied the presence of Methane, therefore any forms of life, on the planet last year. The scientists at ISRO are optimistic and say that they are going to look at Mars differently than ‘Curiosity’.
5. Is it a good time?
An entire debate has circled the mission since the parliament granted an amount of 450 crores for this ambitious project. Activists have been harsh critics stating that India needs to prioritize as a country and use such huge sums of money for something more important like poverty alleviation and improving poor infrastructure. The country had to face one of the worse power crisis in the past decade in 2012 for a good 48 hours when the amount for this project was granted in the parliament inviting sufficient wrath to stall the project. ISRO chairman K. Radhakrishnan defended the costs, according to him his organisation represents only one-third of 1% of the national budget, and of that budget only 7-8% is used for scientific and planetary exploration. Scientists have defended the mission by saying that 450 crores is not a huge sum of money and can definitely not act as a panacea to the ever growing number of poor people in the country plus India needs to advance in fields like space and technology as it is the aspiration for any developing third world country.
According to me, we should all take pride in the fact that the country is ready to launch its first inter planetary mission which will embark upon a 300 day long journey. When countries like the US have spent as much as 2.5 billion dollars on ‘Curiosity’ and ‘Maven’ is all set to be launched. We have to notice that we have spent around 75 million on MOM and according to scientists it is the cheapest inter planetary mission and any other country would have spent five times more. Bringing in issues of poverty and infrastructure and wanting to draw funds from other fields is but one way to hide major discrepancies in the existing system. Huge sums of money are allocated every year to battle poverty, the culprits however have not been poverty but faulty administration and implementation that couldn’t produce desired results. It is important to develop holistically, let’s not say ‘what is the hurry to go to Mars?’, let’s say – Aryabhata was a small step taken 38 years ago and what it did to Indian Space Research. We know that from ATMs to predicting natural hazards to communication, everything that Indian satellites do today have been possible because of that one step taken in 1975. We can afford 450 crores for an interplanetary mission, what we cannot afford is pessimism and procrastination.