Kolkata toasts MOM of India's space successes

Kolkata, Sep 24: As India Wednesday created space history by becoming the first country in the world to enter Mars' orbit in its debut attempt, the West Bengal capital erupted into celebrations.

Civilians, academicians and space science experts said the epoch-making event has opened up new avenues for exploring other planets.

India's Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) traversed over 650 million km in over nine months to reach the Red Planet's orbit.

Dibyendu Nandi, coordinator, Centre of Excellence in Space Sciences at the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, told IANS: "I am super proud as a citizen that we did it in the first attempt. As a scientist, I am happy as it paves the way for exploring other planets that could tell us about evolution, how climate evolved and the possibilities of habitable conditions there."

Nandi said: "Mars once had more of an Earth-like environment and thicker atmosphere, which it lost. The absence of a magnetosphere prevents in protecting from solar radiation and is also thought to be responsible for its thin atmosphere. Studies could tell us, for example, what will happen if the same happens to the Earth."

The state-run Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) became the fourth international space agency after the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) of the US, the Russian Federal Space Agency (RFSA) and the European Space Agency to have undertaken successful missions to Mars.

India also became the first Asian country to have entered the Mars' sphere of influence (gravity) Tuesday, as a similar mission by China failed in 2011.

For another expert, Kaustuv Chaudhuri, secretary general, Kolkata Astronomy Centre, it is a busy week with him lecturing at various schools. His lectures are centred on the Mars mission and its significance globally.

Chaudhuri said: "I am extremely proud. I am moving from one school to another and telling them about the development of India's Mars mission. I am educating them about the challenges, constraints that scientists had to face and, also, expectations internationally."

The Rs.450-crore ($70 million) ambitious mission was launched Nov 5, 2013, on board a polar rocket from spaceport Sriharikota off the Bay of Bengal, about 80 km northeast of Chennai.

The mission is being hailed across social networking sites.

St. Xavier's College - Kolkata principal Father Felix Raj was celebrating the occasion at the establishment's rural campus in Raghabpur in the South 24-Parganas district of the state.

He said: "I am at the other campus and I am celebrating the event here. There are some celebrations at the main campus I believe. We are planning to link the astronomical observatory facilities in our main campus in Kolkata with the students here."

The college, earlier this year, restored and revamped one of the oldest astronomical observatories (housed on its Kolkata campus) in Asia and the largest in the country.

Shikha, a housekeeper, said she followed the launch on TV Wednesday morning. She said: "I heard that it is going to Mars. Will we be able to live there in the future? Did it have life in it once? Hope we find out..."


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