India heralds new space race with orbiter mission to Mars
NEW DELHI — India on Tuesday launched its first spacecraft bound for Mars, a complex mission that it hopes will demonstrate and advance technologies for space travel.
Hundreds of people watched the rocket carrying the Mars orbiter take off from the east-coast island of Sriharikota and streak across the sky. Many more across the country watched live TV broadcasts.
Officials at the space center described it as a “textbook launch.” If the mission is successful, India will become only the fourth space program to visit the red planet after the Soviet Union, the United States and Europe.
“Capturing and igniting the young minds of India and across the globe will be the major return from this mission,” mission director P. Kunhikrishnan said from the launch site.
After 44 minutes, the orbiter separated from the rocket and entered into an elliptical path around Earth. Over the next 20-25 days, it will perform a series of technical maneuvers and short burns to raise its orbit before it slingshots toward Mars.
“With teamwork and the kind of dedication we have today, any mission is not beyond our capability,” said S. Ramakrishnan, head of the space center and launch authorization board.
The 3,000-pound orbiter Mangalyaan, which means “Mars craft” in Hindi, must travel 485 million miles over 300 days to reach an orbit around the red planet.
“The biggest challenge will be precisely navigating the spacecraft to Mars,” said K. Radhakrishnan, chairman of the Indian Space and Research Organization. “We will know if we pass our examination on Sept. 24, 2014.”
The orbiter is expected to have at least six months to investigate the planet's landscape and atmosphere.