The truth of ISRO's Mangalyaan which Akshay Kumar's Mission Mangal could miss

Mission Mangal, based on ISRO's Mangalyaal mission to Mars, is set to release on August 15 in IndiaFox Star Studios

  • Mission Mangalyaan is commended for being the cheapest ever mission to Mars, which was successful on a budget of ₹4.5 billion.
  • Its cost was less than the budget of the upcoming movie based on the event, Mission Mangal which was produced for ₹5 billion.
  • But its limited budget meant that it was only a technology demonstration mission for the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) rather than one focused on collecting scientific data.
The upcoming Bollywood movie, Mission Mangal, set to release on August 15th celebrates India's successful maiden mission to Mars — Mangalyaan. An ensemble cast consisting of Akshay Kumar, Vidya Balan and Sharman Joshi all star in a movie that showcases India's space mission.

Cast of <em>Mission Mangal </em>Akshay Kumar/Facebook

Mission Mangalyaan, or the Mars Orbiter Mission ( MOM), is lauded for being the cheapest ever mission to Mars which a budget of ₹4.5 billion (₹450 crore).

It's also how India came to be the fourth country to land on Mars and the first one to do it successfully on its first attempt.

Mangalyaan captures its first image of Mars taken from a height of 7300 kmISRO

Ironically Mission Mangal's budget is more than that of the actual Mars mission at ₹5 billion (₹500 crore), according to Kumar.

But unlike the movie, the story of Mangalyaan doesn't quite end happily ever after.

Defying the odds

Mission Mangal's trailer shows that the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) had proposed a budget ₹8 billion (₹ 800 crore) to launch Mangalyaan but were only allotted a little more than half that amount for the project.

First image of the Earth by MCC of Mars Orbiter Spacecraft taken on Nov 19, 2013ISRO

Innovation and jugaad (cheap quick fix solutions to problems) did help turn the mission. This is in spite of the fact that its ‘chances of success were less than 1%'.

And, while Mission Mangal seems to highlight the obstacles that India had to overcome in order to launch Mangalyaan — it could fail to illustrate the fact that it came at a cost.

Cost of science

In the movie, the project team worries about getting the payloads aboard the rocket. In typical movie fashion, the narrative seems to be skewed towards how they finally managed to ‘fix' it.

In reality, ISRO had to drastically cut down on the instruments it had planned to send to Mars because it lacked a rocket with the requisite capacity.

Technology like the ‘ Bahubali' GSLV-Mark III heavy launch vehicle which recently launched the Chandrayaan 2 mission into space wasn't available back in 2013. Instead, India used its lighter PSLV XL launch vehicle — originally built for the Chandrayaan 1 and the largest available rocket at the time — to reach Mars.

Mangalyaan's PSLV XL C25 rocket taking off in 2013ISRO

A smaller rocket also meant that it could only carry so much weight. Mangalyaan's payload was only 15 kilograms and it could only take five payloads along.

And since ISRO only had 18 months to pull the mission together, the instruments were relatively simple, and could only send back to the most basic of information.

Mangalyaan's spacecraft undergoing EMI/EMC test at ISITE ISAC BangaloreISRO

To put it in perspective, US' National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) had five years to work on Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) — which launched a mere 13 days after MOM. It had a capacity of 65 kilograms, carried eight payloads and cost a total of $671 million. And so, its contribution towards scientific advancement and the understanding of Mars was also much higher.

Mangalyaan, on the other hand, the aim was just to get there. ISRO, in the past, stated that Mangalyaan was merely a technology demonstration mission to show India's capabilities in outer space technology. In that sense, it could be termed successful, yet its contribution to understanding the elusive planet, is quite less.

See also:
India's low cost space missions come at a price

ISRO's commercial operations clock in over ₹60 billion in revenue but leaves private players out of the equation
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