India Beats China In Race To Mars

Most remarkable is that the country’s maiden voyage succeeded on a shoestring budget.

India Beats China In Race To Mars
[Photo: Flickr user Kevin Dooley]

India, the scrappy underdog of the space world, successfully sent a spacecraft into Mars’s orbit on September 24, beating its chief rival China to the Red Planet.


Mangalyaan–also known as Mars Orbiter Mission (and more affectionately as MOM)–was sent aboard a small 3,000-pound rocket last November and traveled 414 million miles to reach its destination Wednesday. “The odds were stacked against us,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in a speech. “We have dared to reach out into the unknown and have achieved the near impossible.”

NASA administrator Charles Bolden congratulated India on the achievement. “It was an impressive engineering feat, and we welcome India to the family of nations studying another facet of the Red Planet,” he said in a statement. “We look forward to MOM adding to the knowledge the international community is gathering with the other spacecraft at Mars.”

The craft, which will not land on the planet but instead collect research data from orbit, is the first from an Asian nation to reach Mars. Mangalyaan has an expected life of about six months, when it will run out of fuel. It will study the Martian surface and atmosphere, sending data back to Bangalore, India.

Yet most remarkable is that India did so on a shoestring budget: 4.5 billion rupee, or $74 million. Compare that with NASA’s $671 million MAVEN craft, which reached Mars’s orbit Sunday.

Given the monumental task of getting to Mars–there have been 30 failed attempts to reach the Red Planet, including one by China in 2012–we thought it’d be fun to put this number in perspective:

Things that cost more than India’s mission to Mars

-The Hollywood production Gravity ($100 million)


-The daily economic loss during the 2013 government shutdown ($76 million)

-A Beverly Hills home Beyonce and Jay Z are (reportedly) eyeing ($85 million)

-The price News Corp. paid in 2005 for MySpace ($580 million) [In 2011, it sold the social network for $35 million.]

-Apple’s (reported) marketing budget for the new U2 album nobody wants ($100 million)

About the author

Based in San Francisco, Alice Truong is Fast Company's West Coast correspondent. She previously reported in Chicago, Washington D.C., New York and most recently Hong Kong, where she (left her heart and) worked as a reporter for the Wall Street Journal.