India's unmanned Mars probe ready for lift-off
INDIA began a countdown yesterday to the launch of its most ambitious and risky space mission to date, sending a probe to Mars which was conceived in just 15 months on a tiny budget.
After a recent Chinese attempt flopped, India is seeking to make a statement of its technological prowess by becoming the first Asian power to reach the Red Planet more than 200 million km away.
An unmanned probe, weighing 1.35 tonnes and about the size of a large refrigerator, will leave Earth strapped to an Indian rocket which is set to blast off from the south-east coast tomorrow afternoon.
Wrapped in a golden film, the orbiter will carry advanced sensors to measure the Martian atmosphere, hoping to detect traces of methane which could help prove the existence of some sort of primitive life form.
"Any interplanetary probe is complex. As we can see for Mars, there were 51 missions so far around the world and there were 21 successful missions," the chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation, Mr K. Radhakrishnan, said on Thursday.
Undeterred by the failure rates, he laughed off any suggestion of last-minute nerves, saying: "If it is a failure, then learn. Failure is a stepping stone to success."
Success would be a source of national pride for Indians, whose 2008 unmanned mission to the Moon helped prove the existence of water.
It would also bolster the reputation of India, the land of the world's cheapest car, as a leader in low-cost innovation. The project was announced in August last year with a budget of only 4.5 billion rupees (S$91 million).
"Don't underestimate it because it is a low-cost mission that is being done for the first time," Indian science journalist Pallava Bagla, author of the book Destination Moon, said.