NASA's Mars robots set to get company with India's successful launch

Indian space agency launches Mangalyaan spacecraft for 10-month information-gathering trip to Mars

About 10 months from now, NASA's Mars robotic rovers and orbiters are slated to be getting some company.

The Indian Space Research Organization this morning launched a spacecraft from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre near Chennai to begin a mission to Mars.

After a 10-month journey, the spacecraft is scheduled to enter orbit around Mars and begin to study the Red Planet's atmosphere and surface. The primary goal: To gather technical information that can help Indian scientists plan for interplanetary travels.

The Indian space agency said the Mangalyaan spacecraft, will spend the next 20 to 25 days orbiting the Earth, testing itself and moving into a higher orbit where it will slingshot toward Mars.

If Mangalyaan, Hindi for "Mars Craft," reaches its destination, India will join the United States, the Soviet Union and the European Space Agency in successfully getting crafts to the planet.

Today, NASA has two robotic rovers, Curiosity and Opportunity exploring the surface of Mars, and orbiters Odyssey and the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter taking images, studying the Martian atmosphere and relaying data compiled by the rovers back to Earth.

Michael Braukas, a NASA spokesman, said the U.S. agency hopes the Indian effort will complement its work.

He told Computerworld on Monday that while India's Mars mission is not a cooperative one with NASA, the U.S. agency will will provide provide data from its satellites and antennas to show Indian Space Research Organization officials, for instance, Mangalyaan's position in space.

The Indian orbiter is slated to carry at least five scientific tools, including a tri-color camera to capture images of Mars surface features, and a methane sensor and a Thermal Infrared Imaging Spectrometer to study surface composition and mineralogy.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her email address is

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