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Indian spacecraft is off to Mars, on a lean budget

An image of earth taken by India’s Mars Orbiter Spacecraft.EPA/ISRO

The news that India’s spacecraft, Mangalyaan, had successfully entered Mars’ orbit Wednesday has been a source of national pride. But the project, and its minuscule price tag, is also a testament to the march of scientific progress everywhere.

The project, affectionately nicknamed MOM, for Mars Orbiter Mission, by the scientists who worked on it, took a mere 18 months to complete and only cost $74 million. That’s vastly cheaper than most space missions — not to mention plenty of other, more routine endeavors. Indeed, it’s less than one-10th the projected cost of a proposed 740-foot building in Boston’s Financial District. Mangalyaan was so inexpensive in part because it is relatively simple. It mainly consists of three solar panels powering a handful of sensors designed to detect methane gas in the red planet’s atmosphere. NASA recently launched a $671 million Mars orbiter called MAVEN. It’s a far more sophisticated device, but getting a project completed quickly and on a lean budget is an innovation of its own.


Space exploration was once the exclusive domain of the Cold War powers. India’s space program, along with others such as China’s and Brazil’s, speaks to a broader appetite for exploration. More space programs mean more data for scientists everywhere to use, and that will benefit everyone.