#SpaceBuddies: India’s chatty Mars orbiter spurs flurry of Red Planet tweets

#SpaceBuddies: India’s chatty Mars orbiter spurs flurry of Red Planet tweets
India’s Mars Orbiter entered the planet’s orbit exactly a week ago, joining the Mars Curiosity Rover and others in their studies of the red planet. It has since been honing its photography skills and making friends with the other Mars spacecraft.

“The view is nice up here,” The Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) reported upon arrival, extending the hand of friendship to its grounded counterpart.

MOM was launched by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) on November 5, 2013. It has since making a mass of friends on social media, and seems as eager to compensate for its isolation with excessive chattiness.

The NASA Curiosity Rover, renowned for its lighthearted tweets, welcomed it joyfully. “Namaste, @MarsOrbiter! Congratulations to @ISRO and India's first interplanetary mission upon achieving Mars orbit,” it tweeted Wednesday.

ISRO also reached out to the European space agency and the NASA Voyager which it said had ventured out the farthest.

“I'm alone, but not lonely. I talk to the Deep Space Network & carry a Golden Record of greetings from Earth,” NASA’s Voyager recently reassured its followers.

The ESA welcomed the craft with open arms: “It can get lonely in deep space, good to have friends! #SpaceBuddies @MarsOrbiter” it tweeted.

With practice, ISRO has also reported progressive improvements with its photography skills – despite bemoaning the fact that it cannot take selfies.

It uploaded a photograph of the Limb of Mars taken with the Mars Color Camera from an altitude of 8,449 kilometers. “I'm getting better at it. No pressure,” it reported after uploading the photo – only its second at that point.

The first had been a heavily-cratered snapshot from a lower altitude of 7,300 kilometers.

MOM’s intention is to study Mars’ atmosphere, surface environments, morphology and mineralogy.

The internet had previously exploded with outrage at the comparatively miniscule cost of the mission – not in comparison to various NASA missions – but in comparison to the cost of the movie “Gravity”.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has even picked up on the comparison, stating: “Our program stands out as the most cost-effective.”

“There is this story of our Mars mission costing less than the Hollywood movie ‘Gravity.’ Our scientists have shown the world a new paradigm of engineering and the power of imagination.”

The mission also has been praised because of the active role of women in the project.

Some 20 percent of the total ISRO workforce of 14,246 employees are women, and around half of those – 1,654 – are engineers.

ISRO was groundbreaking in that it successfully entered Mars’ orbit at its first attempt – while also being the cheapest project to date. MOM cost 4.5 billion rupees ($75 million).

However, it has caused some controversy because some have said that space travel is best left to wealthy, developed countries, which have a less severe need for the finances and resources.

NASA, the European Space Agency and the Russian space agency Roscosmos have all managed sent their own orbiters to Mars.

Curiouser and curiouser

Meanwhile, Mars Curiosity Rover has been busy itself, having successfully collected its first piece of terrain from the area that it set out to analyze.

“NASA's Curiosity Mars rover has collected its first taste of the layered mountain whose scientific allure drew the mission to choose this part of Mars as a landing site,” NASA announced Thursday.

It reported late Wednesday that had it collected a powdered rock sample from 2.6 inches below the surface of the mountain.

“This drilling target is at the lowest part of the base layer of the mountain, and from here we plan to examine the higher, younger layers exposed in the nearby hills,” said Ashwin Vasavada, a Curiosity deputy project scientist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

“This first look at rocks we believe to underlie Mount Sharp is exciting because it will begin to form a picture of the environment at the time the mountain formed, and what led to its growth.”