India’s low-cost mission to Mars successfully entered the red planet’s orbit on Wednesday, achieving what Prime Minister Narendra Modi said was the “near impossible”.
The Mars Orbiter Mission cost just $74 million, just over a tenth of what NASA spent on a similar mission and less than what it cost to make last year’s Hollywood space drama ‘Gravity’.
“History has been created today,” declared Mr Modi before bursting into applause along with hundreds of scientists at the state-run Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) when it was announced the mission had been accomplished.
“We have dared to reach out into the unknown and have achieved the near impossible,” Mr Modi added.
The Prime Minister has said he wants to expand the country’s five-decade-old space programme.
With a spacecraft around Mars, India joins a small group of nations – the United States, Russia and Europe – that have successfully sent probes to orbit or land on Mars.
Others, however, failed several times initially.
ISRO successfully fired up the orbiter’s main engines and eight thrusters, slowing down the craft and allowing for a smooth entry into the Red Planet’s orbit at around 8 a.m. India time on Wednesday.
After completing the 666 million km (414 million miles) journey in more than 10 months, the spacecraft called Mangalyaan will now study the red planet’s surface and scan its atmosphere for chemical methane.
It will not land on Mars.
It will also be in the company of NASA’s spacecraft Maven that slipped into an orbit around Mars on Sunday with an aim to scan the planet’s upper atmosphere.
Maven cost $671 million.
The technological triumph is fortuitously timed for Modi – he will be able to flaunt the achievement on a trip to the United States starting on Friday that includes an address to the United Nations.
“The success of our space programme is a shining symbol of what we are capable of as a nation. Our space programme has been an example of achievement,” said the nationalist prime minister.
The mission makes India the first country in Asia to reach Mars, after an attempt by regional rival China failed to leave earth’s orbit in 2011.
Modi also holds the additional charge as India’s minister of space, and in June endorsed the low-cost of the project.
India’s space programme was launched in the early 1960s and developed its own rocket technology after Western powers imposed sanctions for a nuclear weapons test in 1974.
Whilst many have hailed the budget of India’s mission to Mars, some campaigners say that it has been a monumental waste of resources in a country with widespread poverty.