November 5 – Call Your MOM

Today’s factismal: India’s Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) launched successfully this morning.

Today, India’s space agency became just the fourth organization in the world to send something toward Mars. And, though the launch into Earth orbit was successful, the other members of this exclusive club (the United States, the ESA, and Russia) can tell them that the hard part is just beginning. That’s because of the “Great Galactic Ghoul” that lives near Mars. This legendary beast has eaten 30 of the 51 probes that were sent to visit the Red Planet.

MOM heads for orbit (Image courtesy ISRO)

MOM heads for orbit
(Image courtesy ISRO)

Of course, scientists don’t really think that there is a probe-eating monster in Mars’ orbit. What we do know is that it is very, very hard to get everything to work properly and that you will have a lot more failures than successes. But when everything works right, the successes are amazing. And that’s what we expect from the Mars Orbiter Mission, affectionately known in the Indian press as Mangalyaan (“Mars craft”).

MOM being integrated with the rocket (Image courtesy ISRO)

MOM being integrated with the rocket
(Image courtesy ISRO)

MOM is currently in orbit around the Earth, preparing for the long trip to Mars (that’s more than nine previous Mars probes managed). Once MOM breaks free from Earth orbit, it will coast for 300 days as it moves outward and into Mars’ orbit (this is where another nine probes failed). Once there, it will orbit Mars as it maps the surface in visible light and infrared (heat vision) and checks for methane and hydrogen in the atmosphere. The infrared maps will tell us how warm Mars is, which will help us understand Mars’ weather (planet circling dust storms and three hundred mph winds). Tracking the amount of hydrogen in the atmosphere can tell us how rapidly Mars is losing water. And detecting methane could indicate the location of life on Mars. So if the Great Galactic Ghoul doesn’t get them, we’ll learn some amazing things, starting next year.

But if you can’t wait to start exploring Mars, then why not head over to NASA’s Rock Around the World web site? The scientists at NASA are looking for students and school groups to send them rock samples to analyze using tools like those on the Mars rovers; this will help them understand the results that we are getting from our current Mars probes. To participate, click to:
http://ratw.asu.edu/

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