India becomes first Asian nation to put spacecraft in Mars’ orbit

India’s low cost spacecraft mission to Mars entered the Red Planet’s orbit Wednesday, following a 414 million mile journey that lasted over 10 months. It was cast into orbit by the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) in Bangalore.

The $74 million price tag is a bargain, particularly compared to NASA’s $671 million Maven mission that also reached Mars this week. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, among others, noted the figure was less than the budget of the Hollywood blockbuster “Gravity.”

The Mars Orbiter Mission is the first successful Asian attempt to reach the planet, and joins NASA, the European space agency and Russia in achieving orbit. The feat is particularly remarkable given India had a positive result on their first try. Significantly, of 51 global attempts to reach the planet to date, 30 have failed. China’s last effort was in 2012 and Japan’s in 1999.

Modi trumpets the feat “as a shining symbol of what we are capable of as a nation,” and that “the odds were stacked against us.” Indeed, the ISRO has worked in international isolation for half a century. In the aftermath of Indian nuclear tests, a number of countries booted the nation from technological sharing programs. NASA congratulated the ISRO Wednesday via a tweet.

For the next six months, the spacecraft will use five solar powered instruments to gather data from the Red Planet. Until it runs out of fuel, it will be able to investigate indicators of water and methane gas. Little is currently known about the Martian weather system, but the information could help scientists understand how planets form.

Prime Minister Modi is scheduled to sit down with President Barack Obama in Washington next week, following an address at United Nations General Assembly. Despite the success, India faces criticism for spending so much on research when a large portion of its 1.2 billion inhabitants live in dire poverty.

For more on the mission, we spoke with Pallava Bagla whose latest book is “Reaching for the Stars: India’s Journey to Mars & Beyond” about the significance of this event:

Also, in January, Hari Sreenivasan profiled India’s Mars Orbiter Mission: