India scripted a new chapter in its space programme when the nation launched its maiden unmanned mission to Mars, propelling the country to an exclusive league of nations. With only the United States, Russia and the European Space Agency successfully sending robots to Mars before, Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) became the fourth space agency to accomplish the feat. “We have placed the Mars Orbiter spacecraft very preciously into an elliptical orbit around the earth. This is the 25th flight of our PSLV and it has been a new and complex mission design to ensure that we will be able to move the satellite from the earth’s orbit to the orbit of Mars with minimum energy,” ISRO chairman Dr K Radhakrishnan said after the indigenously built 44.4-metre-tall PSLV C-25 rocket blasted off from the spaceport here. There were several crucial operations for the satellite in the coming days, including fuel control. “As of now, initial operation has gone very smoothly,” Dr Radhakrishnan said. The Mars Orbiter satellite, weighing 1,337 kg, was put into the orbit around 44 minutes after the launch at 2:38 pm from the first launch pad of the Satish Dhawan Space Centre. Dr Radhakrishnan said Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh had called him to congratulate the ISRO team on the successful launch. In the moments before the blast-off, the mood was tense in the mission control room, with the country’s top space scientists glued to their computer screens. At Rs 450 crore, the Indian mission is considered to be the cheapest in the world, but will help generate the first-ever comprehensive map of the Red Planet. One of the main objectives of the mission was to develop technologies required for design, planning, management and operation of an interplanetary mission. The satellite is expected to orbit earth for 20-25 days before embarking on a nine-month voyage to the red planet on December 1 and reach the orbit of Mars by September 2014. The Mars Orbiter has been configured to observe physical features of the Red Planet and carry out limited study of the Martian atmosphere, with five payloads finalised by the advisor committee on space sciences. The five payloads include a “Lyman Alpha Photometer” to measure relative abundance of deuterium and hydrogen, “Methane Sensor for Mars” to measure methane in the Martian atmosphere, “Mars Colour Camera” to capture image of the surface, “Mars Exospheric Neutral Composition Analyser,” a spectrometer and “Thermal Infrared Imaging Spectrometer.”The focus now shifts to vehicle tracking stations at Port Blair, Bylalu, near Bangalore and Brunei. Soon after the PSLV C-25 took off from Sriharikota, terminals on-board Shipping Corporation of India’s vessels, the SCI Nalanda and SCI Yamuna, which were positioned on the South Pacific Ocean, started generating crucial data on the rocket’s trajectory.