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India Is Prepping For Its First Ever Mars Mission

The Mars Orbiter Mission will attempt to detect methane on the red planet and also map its composition and mineralogy.

India Is Prepping For Its First Ever Mars Mission

[Images: Flickr user .nednas.; ISRO]

The politics is dysfunctional; the currency is falling; and the GDP growth has hit its lowest level since 2009. But that's not stopping India from pressing on with its space program.

Ahead of the Chandrayaan-2, its second lunar mission scheduled for 2014, a team of Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) engineers is all set for a mission to Mars, reports the Hindustan Times. The project, dubbed the Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM), is India's first interplanetary mission and will attempt to detect methane in Mars's atmosphere. Methane is a by-product of living organisms, so finding any traces greatly increases the possibility of finding life on the planet.

The MOM also has a thermal infrared imaging spectrometer on board, which will help scientists map the surface composition and the mineralogy of the red planet—immensely valuable information for when humans finally land on it.

The MOM will launch on October 28, at the beginning of a short window that opens up every two years, which allows for the optimal trajectory for a spacecraft to fly toward Mars. It is expected to enter Mars's orbit in August 2014.

Back home, NASA's own MAVEN (Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution) will launch on November 18 toward the end of the two-year window, and is expected to reach Mars's orbit in September 14, about a month after the MOM.