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India Reaches Mars With Low-Cost Mission

NASA's MAVEN spacecraft
An artist’s depiction shows NASA’s MAVEN spacecraft flying above Mars. NASA/Goddard

India’s new entrant into orbit around Mars, the Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM), is a triumph for its  space agency and represents the fourth country to successfully send a spacecraft to the red planet. At a reported cost of $73 million, the mission is also a feat for lower cost exploration.

Launched on November 5, 2013, the MOM spacecraft reached Mars and fired its rocket engines for a little over 23 minutes to enter orbit beginning at 10:17 pm EDT on Tuesday (7:17 a.m.  Indian Standard Time on Wednesday). There it joins NASA’s $671 million MAVEN orbiter, which itself just arrived. (See: “With NASA Probe’s Arrival, International Mars Invasion Gets Under Way.”)

“The spacecraft is now circling Mars,” announced the Indian Space Research Organization in a statement on Wednesday. MOM will travel on an elongated, 72-hour orbit that swings as low as 261 miles (421 kilometers) and out to 47,841 miles (76,994 kilometers) above the red planet.

MOM bears five scientific instruments with devices to measure methane, atmospheric hydrogen, surface temperature, and atmospheric pressure, as well as a camera for scanning the Martian surface. Some are similar to instruments used on previous Indian lunar missions.

Cheaper Than Gravity

“It was an impressive engineering feat, and we welcome India to the family of nations studying another facet of the Red Planet,” said NASA chief Charles Bolden in a statement on MOM joining MAVEN at Mars. “We look forward to MOM adding to the knowledge the international community is gathering with the other spacecraft at Mars.”

He should be impressed—for the price, the Indian mission is hard to beat, even adding in the cost of the launch rocket, an Indian Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle that costs around $15 million per launch. “India’s Recent Rocket Launch Cost Less Than the Film ‘Gravity,’ ” noted a headline in the July Business Insider that looked at a PSLV launch of four satellites.

For perspective on MOM’s $73 million price tag, here are some other notable Mars missions and their costs: 

—NASA’s Mariner 4 (1964), the first spacecraft to reach Mars, cost about $83.4 million.

—Viking missions (1975), which tested Mars for biological activity, cost about one billion dollars.

—Mars Pathfinder (1998), which carried the little Sojourner rover that revived interest in Mars, cost $254 million.

—Mars Science Laboratory (2009), which delivered the Curiosity rover now exploring a Martian mountain, cost $2.5 billion.

Not all the difference in price reflects cheap Indian launch costs. The big-ticket NASA missions mentioned above involved landing on Mars, and even the doughty Mars Pathfinder rover, which cost a little more than three times MOM, deposited a rover on a planet’s surface.

Some of the savings reflects spacecraft weight, which adds to rocket fuel costs: MOM weighed just 2,947 pounds (1,337 kilograms) at launch, according to ISRO. That’s still more than Mars Pathfinder, which weighed 1,973 pounds (895 kilograms), including a landing bubble that cradled the Sojourner rover.

But in general, more weight means better instruments and a more capable spacecraft. The Mars Science Laboratory mission spacecraft weighed 8,583 pounds (3,893 kilograms) at launch, for example.

“All space exploration expands the frontiers of scientific knowledge and improves life for everyone on Earth,” Bolden says. “We commend this significant milestone for India.”

Follow Dan Vergano on Twitter.





  1. shri
    January 4, 2015, 6:54 pm
  2. Roll T
    October 27, 2014, 11:37 pm

    I agree with Suresh.Let’s not get into any kind of argument and just be normal,making nice comment.Or take our barriers any where else.

  3. Karrah
    October 27, 2014, 11:19 pm

    Very cool article,it took me FOREVER to find out what I wanted to do for an essay.Until,I came across this!Thanks for the info.

  4. Suresh
    United Kingdom
    October 26, 2014, 5:46 am

    Blast off from your boundaries, you are talking about space travel where there is neither boundaries nor horizon. Do not take your barriers there you will end up fighting each other, creating another GAZA.

  5. Code27
    October 5, 2014, 5:46 pm

    I wonder if the U.S gets to do stuff like this???I’m just wondering.

  6. Vinny Chirayil
    October 2, 2014, 2:26 am

    CORRECTION Nat Geo – (1) India is the 3rd country after USA and Russia to reach Mars. I understand that Europe also did it but it is a continent , not a country. Please do not report like a cheap tabloid. (2) I also noticed that you failed to mention that India is the only country in the world to do this in the 1st attempt itself ! In my book, that is a world record ! Either you are biased or you don’t know the facts. (3) Even a kid could have got the images for this article from ISRO’s facebook page but obviously you lack even the basic competencies. Hence, you show NASA images for an article on India’s Mars mission.

  7. niyat praharaj
    September 27, 2014, 7:51 am

    Excellent achievement for india

  8. Global Indian
    September 27, 2014, 7:49 am

    So what is the reason for moderating out my previous comment? May I know please.Profanity, Vulgar, Racism or do you want to suppress the fact? I dont expect it from Nat Geo!

    India is the first country to achieve this feat in its first attempt.

  9. Global Indian
    September 27, 2014, 6:17 am

    Why there is no mention that India is the first country to have a success at the first mission?!

  10. Mohamed Zeyada
    September 27, 2014, 2:27 am

    It is a one, but great, step to the future which should inspire other developing countries.

  11. Justin Tang
    September 26, 2014, 10:55 pm

    Congratulation India! You all made that! Proud of 800 Million people on earth!!!

  12. Ernest Gomez
    September 26, 2014, 8:38 pm

    While it is a great accomplishment for India, I think that 1 billion people is in need of the more basic needs, and so is China.

  13. syed ameen hasan
    jaipur Rajasthan India.302001
    September 26, 2014, 3:27 pm

    I feel very proudly .yes i am anindian.Yes India is a great .knowing all world yet known.

  14. rahul mehta
    September 26, 2014, 1:14 pm

    mehdi abedian I think u are jealous wait and watch u all will be under r foot

  15. Roberto pepito
    September 26, 2014, 11:19 am

    Congratulations India and good luck.

  16. Roberto pepito
    Riyadh saudi arabia
    September 26, 2014, 11:16 am

    Good luck India.

  17. bhoj sanmbhy
    September 26, 2014, 10:22 am

    it all started when in 1963 Indias first rocket was transported to lift-off pad ON A BICYCLE.


  18. Loco
    September 26, 2014, 7:15 am

    Just a little note about the picture that illustrates the article. Is it Mars? Or the moon coloured in red tones? As far as I know Mars’s not that close to Earth! So why the completely inaccurate representation? Artist’s depiction of what? It’s meant to be cute? I thought this was the National Geographic’s web page not the David Zwirner art gallery.

  19. Pramjeet
    September 26, 2014, 5:41 am

    @Mehdi Abedian
    India spent $75 million on mars mission doesn’t mean India put $75 million cash in a rocket and fired it towards mars.
    It actually means that money was spent on so many jobs, developing low cost technology and much more.
    And India will earn much more money from its commercial satelite launches and missions like this boost confidence on both Indian space agency and its customers.

  20. Amritpal
    September 26, 2014, 5:35 am

    @Mehdi: I think there so many other issues as in other countries. Why do you all people think India is so poor? And why do YOU have to think about our problems? Why can’t you just accept that we have a big step into the elite group.

    US is suffering from recession since last decade. So many bankrupcies but India’s economy is booming.

    Please clear your facts before recommending!

  21. Ibrahim Tng
    Adamawa Nigeria
    September 26, 2014, 5:35 am

    Congratulations INDIA…

  22. Gianfranco Fronzi
    Sault Canada
    September 26, 2014, 4:40 am

    Bravo India .
    Together we all could come out of this alive and looking good .
    Apart , we as mankind , could fail ?
    Keep up the research , your friends in America .

  23. Bhaskar
    September 26, 2014, 4:02 am

    Electricity and education is already available to all Indians Mehdi Abedian..need less to say we cant ignore any area of development. To some of the fellow readers don’t be hypocritical.

  24. Dr Ramana
    Vizianagaram, Andhra Pradesh, India
    September 26, 2014, 3:59 am

    It definitely paves way for the growth of science, research, communications and integrated development

  25. Mehdi Abedian
    September 25, 2014, 10:11 am


    But i think the Needs of 400 miljon peoples of India to ELECTRIFICATION AND EDUCATION is most Important thing than..