BANGALORE, INDIA—Scientists here at the Indian Space Research Organisation’s mission control center erupted in thunderous applause this morning when a transmission from the Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) confirmed that the probe had reached Mars. Also on hand was India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, a self-professed space buff. “Mars and MOM have been united,” he declared in a speech broadcast nationwide.
India made it to Mars on its first try—a feat no other country had managed. And they did it on the cheap: With a price tag of $67 million, MOM, also known as Mangalyaan, is the least expensive interplanetary mission ever undertaken. Modi, decked out in a jacket matching the color of the Red Planet, noted that the mission cost less than the roughly $100 million spent making the blockbuster movie Gravity. During its planned 6-month lifespan, MOM, alongside the United States’ MAVEN mission, will seek to unravel how Mars lost its water and much of its atmosphere. MOM will also look for signatures of methane gas, an indicator of carbon-based life.