India’s Mission to Mars: Science or Glory?


India's Mars Orbiter Spacecraft, Mangalyaan (Space.com)

India’s Mars Orbiter Spacecraft, Mangalyaan (Space.com)

There is speculation that India’s Mars mission is aiming for glory, however we believe that there is a great deal of scientific information to be gained from the journey.  The chairman for the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), Dr. K Radhakrishnan stated that the mission and the information gathered from it should “give a clue regarding biological or geological phenomenon on Mars” (BBC News).

India’s history with space expeditions is proof that there is much to learn from these types of journeys.  According to Aljazeera, the nation sent their first unmanned spacecraft on a lunar mission in 2008.  This mission returned results that provided the first evidence of the presence of water on the moon.  Although it is likely that, if successful, India will gain a certain amount of glory and prestige for being the fourth country (after the United States, Russia, and the European Space Agency) with a successful Mars orbit or landing, India’s prior success and interest in space exploration is proof that the glory is not their primary goal.

The ISRO has stated that there are technical and scientific objectives for this mission.  The technical objectives are the “Design and realization of a Mars orbiter with a capability to survive and perform Earth bound maneuvers [and] cruise [for a] phase of 300 days, deep space communication, navigation, mission planning and management, and to Incorporate autonomous features to handle contingency situations” (isro.org).  The Scientific objective of the journey is the “exploration of Mars surface features, morphology, mineralogy and Martian atmosphere by indigenous scientific instruments” (isro.org).

India’s Mission to Mars, Independent Television News (itn.co.uk)

The Mangalyaan spacecraft, which is expected to journey for a total of 10 months, is carrying five scientific instruments intended to achieve the objectives of gathering information about the red planet (BBC News). According to the ISRO website, the five instruments on board and their uses are as follows:  A Mars color camera for optical images, a thermal infrared imaging spectrometer (TIS) for mapping the composition and mineralogy of the planet, a methane sensor for detecting the presence of methane gas, and two tools used for studying the neutral composition escape processes of the upper Martian atmosphere.  The results to be found by the TIS and methane sensor may give more information relating to the possibility of the presence of life on the planet and how Martian weather systems function (USA Today).  Although India’s Mars mission has been launched at a cost of almost €54.4 million which is far less expensive than that of the United States, we believe that these expensive scientific instruments would not be so important to the journey.

With India’s successful history of information and advances from past space endeavors, along with the stated objectives of the mission from the ISRO and the high cost of scientific tools on board the spacecraft, it is not reasonable to believe that the sole, or even primary goal for India’s mission to Mars would be glory or prestige. The intent of India’s unmanned journey to Mars is evidently to gain new and previously unknown scientific and technological information about the red planet.

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