India launched a probe that settled into orbit around Mars at 8 in morning of Sept. 24, India Standard Time, making them the first Asian country to successfully reach the red planet.
What’s even more impressive is that they achieved this feat for $US74 million — it cost Hollywood producers $US100 million to make the film Gravity.
Here’s how they did it:
- The Indian Space Research Organisation built the Mangalyaan satellite in-house with local technologies instead of outsourcing production or purchasing more expensive foreign components.
- They kept things light. Mangalyaan weighs about 33 pounds, which is 50 times lighter than 1,784-pound MAVEN NASA satellite, which arrived at Mars a few days earlier.
- ISRO built only one physical model of the spacecraft, keeping costs down.
Lighter spacecraft are cheaper to build but that also means they can carry fewer instruments, which limits scientific research capabilities.
Mangalyaan will not touch down on the planet’s surface and therefore doesn’t need additional protective gear for landing, which helps keep the craft light. Instead of landing, it will orbit above the Martian surface and study methane levels in the atmosphere.
China failed to successfully send a spacecraft to Mars when they tried in 2012, and Japan failed a similar effort in 1999.
In addition to being the first country in Asia to reach Mars, India made world history by becoming the first nation to launch a successful Mars mission on their first try.
To keep costs down, the engineers for the Indian Space Research Organisation building the craft modelled it exclusively with computer software instead of constructing physical prototypes.
Then they crossed their fingers that the final, single model they built would work.
Undoubtedly, a risky mission, but one that paid off.
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