NASA sends ‘peanuts’ to ISRO for Mars launch

A wish for luck, that began in the 1960s.

By Deepak Chitnis

WASHINGTON, DC: As the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) gears up for the country’s first-ever mission to explore Mars, they’ve received some good luck wishes from their colleagues in the US.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) sent the ISRO one of its customary “lucky peanuts” messages, saying “As you prepare for your launch to Mars, do not forget one of the few, but important action: pass around the peanuts!” The message was posted on the ISRO’s Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) Facebook page.

But what do peanuts have to do with launching a spacecraft towards Mars? Back in the 1960s, NASA’s first six missions to survey the moon all failed. When Ranger 7 was launched and became successful, making history by surveying the moon from close proximity and making it safely back to Earth, the NASA control room team celebrated by passing peanuts around.

The MOM spacecraft, nicknamed Mangalyaan, is scheduled to launch from Sriharikota (in Andhra Pradesh) on Tuesday, November 5th. Although this is India’s first attempt to reach Mars, other countries besides the US have tried to reach the red planet, but haven’t been able to match NASA’s success. Japan tried in 1999 and, more recently, Russia did in 2011.

The spacecraft is expected to stay in orbit around Mars for some time between six and 10 months. The MOM will also carry five payloads into Mars’ orbit, which are: Mars Color Camera (MCC), Mars Exospheric Neutral Composition Analyzer, Methane Sensor for Mars (MSM) (MENCA), Lyman Alpha Photometer (LAP), and Thermal Infrared Imaging Spectrometer (TIS).

NASA is also planning a mission to Mars, with their Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution craft (nicknamed MAVEN) scheduled to launch from Cape Canaveral on November 18.

India’s MOM spacecraft has a launch window of October 28-November 19; should anything occur to prevent Tuesday’s launch, the ISRO still has another two weeks to get MOM en route to Mars, where it should arrive by September 2014.

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