Some 1,000 scientists have been checking every parameter at the spaceport from where PSLV-C25 will lift off at 2.38pm, carrying the Mars orbiter. And rocket science sought to co-opt spiritualism. Carrying on with a tradition followed by his predecessor G Madhavan Nair,Isro chairman K Radhakrishnan offered pujas at the Tirupati Venkateswara temple, about 100km from the launch pad, with miniature replicas of the rocket and the Mars orbiter spacecraft.
Coming out of the temple, Radhakrishnan told reporters: "It's a long mission, and the spacecraft is expected to reach the Mars on September 24, 2014." After the countdown began at 6.08am on Sunday, customary checks and propellant filling operations have been going on with textbook precision. Scientists said it was all "very serious business" but they are enjoying it with enough lighter moments.
A scientist quipped if it was more than a coincidence that the Mars mission named Mangalyaan falls on a Mangalvaar (Tuesday, the day of Mars, called Mangala in Indian astronomy). "We know we have done a great job," chipped in another, "but let's not complain if there is a little divine intervention." The launch was postponed from October 28 since one of the two radar-fitted ships that are to track the rocket from the South Pacific Ocean had not reached its destination due to bad weather.
Irrespective of the launch date changing by a few days, the orbiter is expected to reach Mars on September 24, since it would be in an Earth orbit till the wee hours of December 1. Till then, the orbiter will go in an elliptical orbit 250km at its nearest point to Earth and 23,500km at the farthest. Thereafter, the spacecraft will start a 300-odd day journey to Mars, through the phases of influence of Earth, Sun and, finally, Mars.
"We are all relaxed," said Annadurai, who was the project director of Isro's Chandrayaan-1 mission in 2008 that eventually found moisture on the polar region of moon. "In fact, I am moving out of Sriharikota now to Bangalore for the post-launch operations," he told TOI on Monday evening.
Radhakrishnan had earlier said that getting the orbiter around Mars in itself would be a success. "There have been 51 launches by the US and Russia. Only 21 of them have been successful," he said. India would be the sixth after the US, USSR/Russia, European Union, China and Japan to launch a Mars mission.