With the successful launch of its Mars mission, has India stolen a march over China in the global space race?
International media certainly think so. Hours ahead of the launch, the Wall Street Journal noted that, "The mission, if successful, would be a technological leap that would propel India ahead of space rivals China and Japan in the field of interplanetary exploration,”
India successfully completed the first launch of its Mars mission from Siriharikota at around 2.38 pm today.
This however, is only part of the country’s first inter-planetary venture story. The Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) is now looking forward to two key dates: 1 December, when the spacecraft leaves the earth’s sphere of influence, and 24 September next year, when it’s captured by Martian orbit.
China reacted to the launch neutrally. "Outer space is shared by the entire mankind. Every country has the right to make peaceful exploration and use of outer space," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told a media briefing when he was asked about India's Mars probe.
At the same time, he said, the international community should make joint efforts to ensure enduring peace and sustainable development of outer space".
Asked whether China is apprehensive of India's space programme, Hong said relations between the two countries are on a path of steady growth. "Political mutual trust between our two countries has increased and mutual cooperation has expanded," he said.
However, the official Chinese media alleged that India is undertaking ambitious ventures to overtake the country's space programme.
The state-run Global Times daily criticised India's space programme, saying it sent a probe to Mars despite having millions of poor people to gain an advantage over China.
"India has an ambitious goal of leading Asia in this area, especially having an advantage over China," it said in an editorial titled "India's space ambition offers clue to China".
"China has achieved a leap forward in the development of manned space flight and space station technology. It has already been in advance of India," it added.
Ahead of the launch, isro Chief K Radakrishnan played down the possibility of an Indo-China space race.
“Sending a spacecraft to Mars would bring India immense prestige, but we are doing this for ourselves. The main thrust of space science in India has always been people-centric, to benefit the common man and society,” he said.
The Mars mission is expected to cost about $83 million and will give India a shot at becoming only the fourth country to reach the Red Planet, after the Soviet Union, US and Europe. However there is still a long way to go.
This is India’s first Mars mission, so be warned no country has been successful on its first try, unless India proves to be the exception. More than half the world’s attempts to reach Mars, 23 out of 40 missions, have come to naught, including missions by Japan in 1999 and China two years ago.
With PTI inputs