India has begun its first-ever mission to Mars, with the successful launch yesterday afternoon of the Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) spacecraft, also known as Mangalyaan, which is Hindi for “Mars Craft.”
MOM was launched by the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota on November 5, 2013 at 2:38 PM local time.
Scheduled to arrive at Mars on September 24, 2014, MOM will, hopefully, enter into Martian orbit and begin studying the atmosphere and surface, including searching for methane. The presence of methane in the Martian atmosphere has been hotly debated by scientists for many years now. While the Curiosity rover, also equipped to detect it, has failed to find it yet, other observations from telescopes and the Mars Express orbiter have suggested periodic outbursts of the gas in localized regions. Methane can be a product of both biology and geology, so the debate has taken on particular significance.
The mission director, Kunhi Krishnan, described the launch as a start to a “grand and glorious” mission.
The MOM mission follows India’s previous successful Chandrayaan 1 orbiter mission to the Moon. So far, only the United States, the Soviet Union and Europe have reached the Red Planet. If successful, India will join an elite club. Godspeed, MOM!