An Indian spacecraft has reached Mars and entered the planet’s orbit, in a historic feat crowning India as the first country to execute such a mission in its maiden attempt.
Scientists in the command centre in Bangalore broke into wild cheers on Wednesday as the orbiter’s engines completed 24 minutes of burn time and manoeuvred into its designated orbit.
Narendra Modi, India’s prime minister, hailed the feat of Indian engineering: “Congratulations to all, to the entire country … history has been created today. We have gone beyond the boundaries of human enterprise and innovation.”
The success of the Mars orbiter mission, lauded for its low $74m cost, has placed India in an elite club of Martian explorers with the US, the European Space Agency and the former Soviet Union.
“The amount our scientists have spent on this mission is even less than what they spend in making Hollywood movies,” Modi said in a televised address to the mission scientists.
India has said the spacecraft, called Mangalyaan in Hindi, was chiefly meant to showcase the country’s ability to design, plan, manage and operate a deep-space mission.
India has already conducted dozens of successful satellite launches, including sending up the Chandrayaan-1 lunar orbiter, which discovered key evidence of water on the Moon in 2008.
The Mars probe is expected to circle the planet for six months, about 500km above its surface. Its scientific instruments will collect data and send it back to Earth.
Five solar-powered instruments will help determine how Martian weather systems work and what happened to the water that is believed to have once existed on Mars in large quantities.
The probe will also search for methane, a key chemical in life processes on Earth that could also come from geological processes.
India now joins an elite club of the United States, Russia and Europe who can boast of reaching Mars. More than half of all missions to the planet have ended in failure, including China’s in 2011 and Japan’s in 2003.