India Launches Mars Mission

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from The Wall Street Journal,

Scientists Expect Satellite to Enter Mars Orbit in September 2014.

India launched a spacecraft toward Mars on Tuesday, setting the country on course to become the first in Asia to reach the Red Planet and lifting the national mood at a time of economic uncertainty.

Cheers erupted at the Satish Dhawan Space Center on India’s southeastern coast after a multistage rocket successfully lofted a Mars-bound satellite into Earth orbit for the first stage of its 400-million-mile voyage.

“The journey has only begun,” said Koppillil Radhakrishnan, chairman of the Indian Space Research Organization, the country’s civilian space agency. “Challenging days are coming.”

If it succeeds, India’s Mars mission would represent a technological leap for the South Asia nation, pushing it ahead of space rivals China and Japan in the field of interplanetary exploration.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called the launch a “historic achievement,” while Narendra Modi, the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party’s candidate for the premiership, said: “India has gained a top spot in space.”

The costs of India’s space program, which has an annual budget of about $1.1 billion, have been criticized by some who think the money would be better spent dealing with India’s terrestrial issues.

But the relatively inexpensive price tag of the Mars mission, at about $73 million, made it a bargain, supporters say.

Popular Indian fiction author Chetan Bhagat tweeted from his verified account: “Did you know, in $ terms, the entire ISRO Mars Mission cost less than the Commonwealth Games 2010 opening ceremony.”

The satellite is expected to enter Mars orbit next September. The space agency’s Mr. Radhakrishnan said it would “provide knowledge to the Indian community and humanity.”

The satellite has equipment to search for methane in the Martian atmosphere, analyze the surface of the planet and take tricolor images from above.

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