History was made Wednesday morning when India became the first Asian country to enter Mars' orbit. The Mars Orbiter Mission spacecraft reached the Red Planet just days after NASA's MAVEN — and at a fraction of the United States' price tag. The New York Times reported that Indian schoolchildren were asked to report to school at 6:45 a.m., much before their usual start time, to witness the historic event. I imagine that's one of those things today's kids will gush about to future generations, but I bet there was a fair amount of parental coaxing (read: bribing) to get the kids out of bed.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi extolled his country's accomplishments alongside crew at the Indian Space Research Organization in Bangalore.
The odds were stacked against us. When you are trying to do something that has not been attempted before, it is a leap into the unknown. And space is indeed the biggest unknown out there.
India one-upped the U.S.'s mission by successfully completing the maiden voyage on a budget. It is the only country that has successfully entered Mars' orbit on its first attempt. India spent $74 million on the Mars Orbiter Mission (nicknamed MOM), compared to the whopping $671 million spent on MAVEN.
Which means India managed to navigate MOM to Mars while cutting 89 percent of the costs.
And as the prime minister pointed out in June, $74 million is cheaper than the budget for Gravity.
India kept costs down by designing small. It cut fuel costs by using a smaller rocket to launch the craft into orbit, and using existing technologies to make the mission possible. With a total space exploration budget of $1.2 billion (compare that to NASA's $17.5 billion), the cost-cutting measures were necessary.
Even with frugal space exploration, many wonder if India should have undergone such a risky operation when, as of 2010, 32.7 percent of the population was living under $1.25 per day. In August 2013, India found itself on the brink of a financial crisis as the price of the rupee plummeted. While it may have found success in the skies, finances are far from stable at home.
India has made an important point: Space travel is possible without spending hundreds of billions of dollars. The success of the Indian Space Research Organization serves as a resume builder for its space program, which they hope to use to attract business to the country. Still, out of the 51 attempts to orbit Mars, only 21 have succeeded. India's investment was far from a sure thing, particularly on the country's first attempt.
Images: Getty (2), NASA