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Stories Behind The Heroes Of Mars Orbital Mission Are No Less Than A Saga Of Sacrifices

No one can stand against if a person says that, Indian women are made from some kind of substance that purely puts them into a special category of being a great human being. I am not differentiating, just saying what I have observed it and you'll observe it too after reading this through that this land (India) produces women that carry a heart which is meant to give love. Yet they prove that they are beyond boundaries of social restriction as they are as mighty to break the glass between the earth and the space to reach the infinite universe.What?Was that too much for a metaphor? Well, no. As the pretty ladies that you're going to read about literally made that metaphor a real event.Mars Orbital Mission (M.O.M) which is well known to all as the Mission Mangalyaan was launched on November 5th, 2013. The project is the biggest achievement of Indian Space Science till date as it was something that took other space organisations including NASA, several attempts, but was achieved by ISRO in its first attempt itself. Also, it was India's first interplanetary mission.But there is something more to this historic mission, the scientists that sent the rocket to orbit Mars happen to be women. Indian women, for that matter!

The terrible gamble of Mangalyaan!

Mangalyaan was a big gamble for the Indian Space and Research Organization as only 40 percent of such missions by major Space Research Organizations including NASA(American), RFSA(Russian), JAXA(Japanese), CNSA(Chinese) were successful and reportedly, no organization, except ISRO, orbited Mars in their first attempt. The mission was successful with a very low funding of $74 million. Ironically, 'The Martian', a movie that starred Matt Damon was made with the budget of $108 million.

Happy faces after Mars Orbiter Spacecraft's entered Mars' orbit.

The rocket was sent to make its journey to Mars' orbit only after 18 months since the work on the mission began. But that's something that was the highlight of the mission, here's the backstage story.

While the Mars Orbiter was finding its path...

The scientist down here were waiting for the spacecraft to send the signals. The scientist worked for 48 hours straight, and the mission control had a panic amidst it.Deputy operations director, Nandini Harinath, says, “you no longer need to watch a thriller movie to feel the thrill in life. You feel it in your day-to-day work.”In the end, the mission was a success, for two reasons, one, we reached Mars' orbit and second, an image was established of women in India, the kind that wears sarees and ties flowers in their hair, and sends rockets into space.

The Methane Sensor instrument:

Moumita Dutta is someone who left her PhD that she was offered from abroad and traveled half-way through the country from Kolkata to join ISRO in its mission to the moon. 

Moumita with her colleague, Minal Rohit.

With a limited budget and also with short time to execute the mission, the Mars Orbiter had to enter an elliptical orbit around the red planet from behind the planet, cutting off all communication with the Earth at the most crucial stage of the mission.For this to happen, the orbiter had to require a fully autonomous capability that would help it in functioning. The orbiter could carry five sensors to carry out scientific experiments therefore, the sensors would have to weigh under 15 kilograms, or 33 pounds, put together.

Moumita was brought to task to built the sensors.

Already there was news that the Mars rover by NASA had detected elements of Methane gas on the surface of the red planet. If this were true, it could indicate that either life or water was once present on Mars. Moumita in an interview said that searching for methane's slightest presence on the planet was “like searching for God, of course, God, in this case, is our scientific objective." As it requires a scientific instrument that can detect even the smallest amounts of methane on the entire surface of Mars, and do so over all seasons, for months and years. “We were building something that had never been built before, so every day was a new challenge,” she says.Remembering the testing of the instrument, Moumita says, "I put the etalon (the sensor instrument) in the test setup, so anxious to see whether it’d give me the performance we were looking for,” after which she inserted a tiny methane cell between the etalon and the parallel beams of light in the setup. The signal from the etalon dropped. “When I saw this, I thought “whoa!” I became emotional. What we’d built could actually detect methane. We knew that this would work!"

Minal Rohit, Project Manager on M.O.M

38-year-old Minal who is a mother of a six-year-old boy says in the same u, "We think of our satellites and payloads as our babies, too." (Perhaps that is why the project was named MOM).Her role was in the mission was to help the integration of the components of the methane sensor into a finely tuned scientific instrument. Normally all of her work would have been done in the qualification model, with a margin of error that could have been corrected in the final flight model. But since everything was overlapped to meet the deadline, that margin didn’t exist.

"In space, no mistake is acceptable," says Rohit.

“We call it zero defect.” So when all instruments were coming in for testing on both qualification and flight models at the last stage, Minal recalls, “there was a lot of pressure. No mistake was acceptable, not in a single wire connection. I would say that even the patience I don’t keep with my own son was tested in this mission.”In this mission, Minal recounts, “they were still being tested by subsystem teams. So we had to trust orally, without documents or certificates, just from the engineer saying, "Ok, I’ve tested it my way, now you take it. That’s all!” Minal (while laughing) recollects, “I was praying to God that when I press the on button, it should switch on, and not blast something!” And as the result of all these efforts, nothing blasted. It was a success!

During takeoffs, Nandani says, “I always have butterflies in my stomach.”

After the launch Ritu recalls, “Every minute, we were keeping track of data to try and calculate if an anomaly was occurring.” But of course, there was no way to alter the mission itself. For the next 26 minutes, Ritu teams waited in the complete silence of the mission control room. The step by step approach by Ritu had worked.

"I'd only get home around midnight," Nandani Harinath.

Nandini Harinath, deputy operations director on MOM says, "I've worked on 14 missions over my 20 years at ISRO, and each one you work on feels like it's the most important. But Mangalyaan was special because of the number of people watching us. And it feels great to be recognised for your expertise and competence. The PM shook hands with us. NASA congratulated us; they're now collaborating with us. But it's not just the industry, it's the wider public, institutions, schools -- they're all so interested! They're even following it on social media."

"It is like hitting a bulls-eye in the dart board."

"We needed a certain velocity to get out of the Earth's sphere of influence," Nandini says recalling the launch. "We couldn't do it in one shot because our engine wasn't that powerful. So we had to gain that energy slowly. So every time we went around the earth, we would fire the engine to get that extra energy. So, after six such burns, the Orbiter had enough velocity to exit from the Earth's sphere of influence, and it went on the cruise."This cruise to the red planet took nine months. 

See the women behind the mission sharing stories about India's first interplanetary mission.

Mangalyaan is truly India's great achievement, and we know a lot more is yet to come. We wish these inspiring women scientists all the best for their future projects as by this one, they have clearly told us, the sky is not their limit.Thanks for reading.Subscribe!