September 24, 2014 8:52 pm

India’s Achievement Is Humanity’s Milestone

An artists concept of India's Mars Orbiter Mission

Image Credit: “Mars Orbiter Mission – India – ArtistsConcept” by Nesnad – Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 via Wikimedia Commons –

There didn’t seem to be nearly as many people watching here in the U.S. as when Curiosity landed on Mars, or last Sunday night when MAVEN entered Mars orbit, but when mission control reported that India’s Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) successfully maneuvered into orbit last night at 0230 GMT (10:30 p.m. EDT), the cheers went around the globe.

Even though the mission reportedly cost only $74 million, which is less than the $100 million budget for the movie Gravity, Mangalyaan (Hindi for “Mars-Craft”) is widely reported to have achieved something no other Mars-exploring country has done: it successfully entered orbit around Mars on the first mission.

The Soviet Union’s first attempt in 1960 failed to even achieve Earth orbit, and NASA’s Mariner 3 never made it to Mars. Japan’s spacecraft ran out of fuel before reaching the red planet in 1998, and China’s effort in 2011 never left low Earth orbit. To be fair, though, the ESA’s first effort, the Mars Express, reached Mars on Dec. 25, 2003, where it is currently in orbit, although its Beagle 2 lander was declared a loss.

Last night, as I watched India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, addressing the world from Mission Control in Bangalore, it was easy to get caught up in the celebration of national pride and achievement. Even though Modi said, “History has been created today. India is the only country to have succeeded to reach the Red Planet on its first attempt,” I felt the same feelings of pride in human achievement as I felt when Curiosity landed.

I was reminded of something I’ve heard people say about Apollo 11, that all over the world, people didn’t say, “America landed on the moon.” They said, “We landed on the moon.” Indeed, the plaque left on the descent stage of the Apollo 11 Lunar Module says, “Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the Moon, July 1969 AD. We came in peace for all mankind.”

Someday, when mankind has traveled far beyond the Earth, and the Moon, and Mars, when we are no longer citizens of individual nations but citizens of the planet Earth, we will all look back on MOM’s arrival at Mars last night not as only India’s achievement, but as our own.

That’s it for now. Keep Looking Up!

–Jeffrey Simons

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