New Delhi: India’s first mission to Mars left Earth’s orbit early on Sunday, clearing a critical hurdle in its journey to the red planet and overtaking the efforts in space of rival Asian giant China.
The success of the spacecraft, scheduled to orbit Mars by next September, would carry India into a small club, which includes the United States, Europe, and Russia, whose probes have orbited or landed on Mars.
India’s venture, called Mangalyaan, faces further more hurdles on its journey to Mars.
Fewer than half of missions to the planet are successful.
“While Mangalyaan takes 1.2 billion dreams to Mars, we wish you sweet dreams!” India’s space agency said in a tweet soon after the event, referring to the citizens of the world’s second-most populous country.
China, a keen competitor in the space race, has considered the possibility of putting a man on the moon sometime after 2020 and aims to land its first probe on the moon on Monday.
It will deploy a buggy called the “Jade Rabbit” to explore the lunar surface in a mission that will also test its deep space communication technologies.
China’s Mars probe rode piggyback on a Russian spacecraft that failed to leave Earth’s orbit in November 2011.
The spacecraft crumbled in the atmosphere and its fragments fell into the Pacific Ocean.
India’s mission showcases the country’s cheap technology, encouraging hopes it could capture more of the $304-billion global space market, which includes launching satellites for other countries, analysts say.
“Given its cost-effective technology, India is attractive,” said Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan, an expert on space security at the Observer Research Foundation think-tank in Delhi.
India’s low-cost Mars mission has a price tag of 4.5 billion rupees ($73 million), just over a tenth of the cost of NASA’s latest mission there, which launched on Nov 18.