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India’s first interplanetary spacecraft heads to Mars

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM),  India’s first ever interplanetary spacecraft fired its main engines early Sunday morning and took off Earth’s orbit on its journey to Mars. The MOM, also known as Mangalyaan is set to cruise for 680m km (422m miles) on its 300-day journey, and is expected to reach its target on 24 September 2014.

The $72m (£45m) project has ambitions to carry out a number of experiments including a study of the Red Planet’s surface, its mineral composition, and also lookout for methane gas in its atmosphere.

“Earth orbiting phase of the #Mangalyaan ended and now is on a course to encounter Mars after a journey of about 10 months around the Sun,” tweeted MOM.  The MOM took off from its launch pad at Sriharikota on the 5th of November and has for nearly a month covered six orbits around the earth. Although the spacecraft encountered a maneuvering issue on 11th November when it missed its intended mark, it has now successfully exited Earth’s orbit and is well on its intended journey.

“We have planned right now four mid-course corrections; first one will be around December 11 – plus or minus a couple of days depending on the deviation,” says V Koteswara Rao, scientific secretary of the Indian Space Research Organization (Isro), as reported on the NDTV news channel.

The MOM’s search for methane is not a first; the gas is said to have been previously detected in the Red Planet’s atmosphere by telescopes on Earth and other orbiting spacecrafts. As greater parts of the atmospheric methane found on Earth are produced by living organisms; aeronautical science has for long been looking for signs of life on Mars. NASA’s Rover Curiosity has however been unsuccessful in finding methane in its most recent measurements of Mars’ atmosphere.

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