The same thought which made it almost impossible to sleep last night jolted me awake this morning. 6.50am. I had been awaiting this moment for quite a while – and it was now coming true! I had never been this excited before. I raced to the TV to make sure that I wasn’t too late. There was just one thing going on in my head since the past couple of weeks – “MOM”!
I am referring to the Mars Orbiter Mission (informally known as Mangalyaan) – ISRO’s maiden attempt at sending a satellite to Mars. The past two weeks have been pretty eventful, as the commands were uploaded and the LAM engine was successfully fired after remaining idle for 300 days! The part that really amazed me was that MOM was to autonomously align in the Martian orbit!
Contrary to popular perceptions the most amazing thing about this feat wasn’t that the per kilometer cost of the Mission was less than that of auto-rickshaws in Mumbai, rather HOW they managed to achieve it. Instead of building a powerful launcher (which would have led to escalating costs), ISRO chose to use the old launcher, along with the cheapest resource available – gravity! ISRO used the Interplanetary Slingshot to get the Orbiter to Mars, making use of the Earth’s gravity to gather speed, the Sun’s gravity to travel, and Mars’ gravity to get closer to it. The fact that the entire technology was innovated and developed completely in India is what makes it all the more marvelous!
I watched the live telecast from ISTRAC, sharing the nervous look almost everybody had on their faces. The atmosphere was pretty much charged, as the final orbit insertion was due this morning. If everything went right, MOM would join NASA’s MAVEN. India would be making history, – being the only country in Asia to put a satellite around Mars, and the first country in the world to do so in the maiden attempt! This couldn’t get better. With every passing moment the anxiety level climbed. On hearing about the confirmed orbit alignment, the celebrations began. With the success of this interplanetary mission, India joined an elite global space club.
It was disheartening to find out that most of my friends didn’t share my enthusiasm and were more or less indifferent to the news. Some of them didn’t even know what I was talking about! Reaching Mars successfully in spite of the constraints and a pretty modest budget (compared to MAVEN) is a huge feat and calls for a lot more celebration than winning the Cricket World Cup.
I am sure this success is only the first step in our amazing journey ahead and that it will open more doors with respect to space research in India. I can’t be prouder. I conclude with the words of our Prime Minister Narendra Modi: “Aaj Mangal ko MOM mil gayi.”