India gets to Mars 'on the cheap'
AN INDIAN spacecraft entered orbit around Mars yesterday after an almost year-long voyage.
Mangalyaan, or "Mars craft" in Hindi, made orbit after a trip of about 661 million km, the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) said.
Costing US$74 million (S$94 million) - just 11 per cent the cost of the United States' Maven probe - the satellite is India's first Mars mission, and it reached the red planet two days after the US$671 million Maven craft.
"History has been created today," Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, wearing a red vest, said in a speech yesterday at the Isro office in Bengaluru, formerly known as Bangalore.
"We have dared to reach out into the unknown and have achieved the near impossible."
India used a smaller rocket and payload to reduce costs, Mr Modi said.
"This mission costs less than it takes to make a Hollywood movie," said the Prime Minister. "These are the achievements that will go down as landmarks in history."
India joins the US, Europe and Russia in orbiting Mars, giving Mr Modi an opportunity to promote the country's technological capabilities and lower costs to woo foreign investment.
The South Asian nation is trying to keep up with China, which plans to complete a manned space station by 2022.
"This is a big step," said Bangalore-based B. N. Raghunandan, a former chairman of the aerospace engineering department at the Indian Institute of Science.
"People will see India as a destination for high-end projects. But there are a number of technologies in space, like human space missions, where we are nowhere near what China has done."
India's mission seeks to map the Martian surface, study the atmosphere and search for methane gas, a sign that the planet can support life, according to Isro.