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Indian Spacecraft Mangalayaan To Enter Mars’ Orbit On September 24
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The speculation for life on Mars has been there for centuries due to its proximity to the earth and the presence of similar conditions as that on earth.
Real searches for evidence of life on the planet started from the 19th century. They are presently carried out with the help of landed missions and telescopes. The scientists are concentrating on the search for water and chemicals in the soils and gases that provide the evidence of life in the atmosphere.
Many spacecrafts have been sent to Mars to determine the evidence for the presence of life. There have been successful and failed missions. The countries which have been successful in doing so are the United States, Soviet Union and Europe.
The first spacecraft to enter the orbit of Mars was the US’ National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) spacecraft that entered the orbit on 14th November 1971. Thereafter, the Soviet Union and European spacecrafts have been successful in entering the orbit.
India too has sent a spacecraft to Mars, which is expected to enter the orbit of Mars on September 24th 2014.
The Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM), informally called Mangalyaan is a Mars orbiter launched into Earth’s orbit on 5 November 2013 by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). .
It is India’s first mission to the planet to search for evidence of life. It was launched from the southern spaceport of Sriharikota.
An ISRO official said that the rocket has travelled almost 666million kms since its launch.
The 350-tonne rocket carries an unmanned probe. The officials have said that the engines will be “woken up” and the “course correction” will be done on Sunday, 21st of September.
ISRO scientists will slow down the craft now travelling at 22.2 kilometres per second to 2.14 metres per second to allow for a smoother entry into the planet’s orbit.
The gold-coloured probe that is of the size of a small car will aim to detect methane in the Martian atmosphere, which could provide evidence of some sort of life form on the fourth planet from the sun.
Its success will make India the first country in the world to insert a spacecraft into the Martian orbit in a maiden attempt. It will also make India the first Asian country to reach the Red Planet’s sphere and ISRO would become the fourth space agency to reach Mars, after the Soviet space program, NASA and the European Space Agency.
The cost of the project is 4.5 billion rupees that is a fraction of the $671 million of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) spacecraft which is set to enter the orbit around the same time.
Dr. Mayank Wahia from the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research has looked at the various aspects of the Mars Mission from its science, to its benefits and tells us why it is good for Science and for India.
He says that designing a mission to Mars is no joke. Several missions to Mars have failed due to errors. Finding out its path and how to get there is Rocket Science! A small error in its velocity or its angle of release from earth can make it unsuccessful.
He says that ISRO has various strengths that have made it successful in this area. Firstly, ISRO has unmatched capability of remote sensing and designing specialised instruments to look for specific features. So, it is using these capabilities to study Methane, Hydrogen and get a mineralogical map of Mars.
Firstly, the presence of Methane sensor can detect the presence of Methane gasthat is highly reactive. So, any methane in the atmosphere will react with other chemicals (biological) and will no longer remain methane. Earlier, spacecrafts had found free methane in the atmosphere of Mars.
Hydrogen: ISRO can detect hydrogen and heavy hydrogen. Hydrogen forms water. But, water that is made with heavy hydrogen is heavier and hence it evaporates differently compared to normal water and neither of these forms of hydrogen can exist in a free state on Mars. Hence, knowing the deuterium to hydrogen ratio will provide an idea whether there is fractionation of hydrogen and deuterium on Mars.
Map of Mars: ISRO has capability in making 2 and 3 dimensional maps of any object and they will now use it on Mars. Mineralogy map depends on the fact that different minerals shine differently.They also shine when gently heated by the Sun. ISRO will use this to determine which mineral is located where on Mars.
Lastly, it will look at neutral gases being ejected from Mars surface. Since we do not really understand how solar radiation interacts with atmosphere, especially because Mars has no protective magnetic field. This will be crucial to understand Mars. Therefore, once Mangalyaan reaches Mars, there will be lots of data about the planet.
On September 24th, India, along with countries all over the world will watch if India’s endeavor to enter Mangalayan in the orbit of Mars is successful or not. If successful it will gain the admiration of countries, which do not have such technologies and India too will be inspired to develop advanced missions.
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