India starts historic mission to Mars

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Sriharikota, November 5:  The nation’s prestigious interplanetary mission to Mars, 40 crore km away, got off to a flying start on Tuesday when the Indian Space Research Organisation’s trusty Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV-C25) roared off the first launch pad of the spaceport at Sriharikota at 2.38 p.m. and put the Mars orbiter precisely into its earth-orbit about 44 minutes later.

This was the first crucial and difficult step in the ISRO’s Mars Orbiter Mission. However, the XL version of the PSLV achieved it with aplomb. The elliptical orbit achieved was so accurate that against the predicted perigee of 250 km and an apogee of 23,500 km, it went into an orbit of 246.9 km x 23,566 km.

The spacecraft first going into orbit around the earth signalled the start of its 300-day voyage to the Red Planet. If everything goes well during this complex and challenging journey through deep space, it will be put into the Mars orbit on September 24, 2014.

Mission highlights

Two mission highlights are: it was the longest PSLV mission at 44 minutes — the previous missions lasted about 18 minutes, and this was the silver jubilee lift-off of the PSLV. Out of the 25 launches, 24 had been successful in a row.

Suspense filled the newly-built Mission Control Centre (MCC) when there was a long coasting phase of 25 minutes between the PSLV’s third stage burnout and the fourth stage ignition.

Tension gripped the MCC again for about half-a-minute for it was only 37 seconds after the fourth stage burnout that the spacecraft was put into orbit. But all this was as planned.

The ISRO scientists’ cup of joy overflowed when M.S. Pannirselvam, Range Operations Director, PSLV-C25, announced tersely from the MCC, “Spacecraft separation achieved. It has been successfully put into orbit.”

Asked later how he felt when he made the announcement, he said, “We had no feeling. We were doing our job.”

Applause erupted when ISRO Chairman K. Radhakrishnan, who did not hide his joy, turned towards his colleagues in the MCC and acknowledged their cheers with folded hands. He called the flight a copybook and textbook mission. It was a new and complex mission in design and execution, he said.

Project Director of Mars Orbiter S. Arunan called it an “excellent mission.” The primary and secondary panels and the high gain antenna of the spacecraft had been deployed. “The spacecraft is in good heath,” he said.

Yash Pal, former Member of the Space Commission, called the successful mission ISRO’s “very very special gift to the nation.”

Long way to go

All former and present brass of ISRO tried to temper the delight by cautioning that “there was a long way to go in time and distance” before the orbiter was put into the Martian orbit in September 2014. They included present top engineers S. Ramakrishnan, M.Y.S. Prasad, A.S. Kiran Kumar, S.K. Shivakumar, M.C. Dathan, P. Kunhikrishnan and the former ISRO chairmen, U.R. Rao and K. Kasturirangan. They emphasised that “while the first job has been successfully done, a long journey lies ahead.”

Dr. Kasturirangan pointed out that this was the first time that an Indian spacecraft had been sent out of the Earth’s gravity.

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