FOR a brief period in the small hours of the morning of September 24th, a control room full of Indian engineers held their breath as Mangalyaan (Hindi for “Mars vehicle”) hid behind the planet’s dark side. They waited for automatic systems to fire the main engine, which had passed  tests earlier in the week, in order to slow the craft enough that it could fall into an orbit around Mars after a 323-day journey. A few tense minutes later, screens in the control room revealed that India had managed to do what no other nation had done before—succeeded in its first attempt to reach Mars safely.

That puts the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) in a league of just four space agencies in history to chalk up a working Mars mission (of the seven operational spacecraft currently orbiting around and trundling on Mars, the European Space Agency’s Mars Express is the only other non-American entrant). Formally known as the Mars Orbiter Mission, Mangalyaan’s principal mission is as a showcase of technological skill. Its success presents India as a frugal supplier in the burgeoning international space industry. Narendra Modi, India’s prime minister, likes to boast that, at about $74m, Mangalyaan was cheaper to produce than the science-fiction blockbuster “Gravity”. [Read more] – Michael’s Blog