The Indian Mars craft (Mangalyaan in Hindi) entered Martian orbit yesterday. The successful mission makes India the fourth spacefaring power, after the Soviet Union, the United States and the European Space Agency, to orbit another planet. Congratulations! India successfully landed a craft on the moon back in 2008, and this week’s accomplishments further the nation’s standing as a space power, perhaps on par with China.
It’s a remarkable achievement, even if you don’t factor in the rarity of such an accomplishment. The mission was India’s first attempt at orbiting another planet. It cost $74 million U.S. By comparison, a NASA craft that entered Martian orbit earlier this week cost $671 million. If you thought that India was trying to follow former NASA Administrator Dan Goldin’s philosophy of ‘Faster, Better, Cheaper,” I could certainly understand. But India’s Cheaper seems to come from making it Simpler. As the BBC noted, the Mangalyaan’s payload is small and more focused (methane detection is a major emphasis) compared to similar craft from the United States and Europe. The country may also be more comfortable with the smaller margins for error that lower budgets often require. As this is a robotic exploration, I think it’s a reasonable strategy. Once India gets to having crew on its spacecraft, then I would expect it to adjust accordingly.
For me, having more countries (and private companies) participating in space travel brings us all closer to having such accomplishment’s as this week’s Martian orbits become more commonplace. And that’s a good thing.