Exactly a week ago, none other than chairman of Isro, K.Radhakrishnan, made a statement at New Delhi's Indira Gandhi National Open University, which has even set those within the space agency thinking.
He said that India's space programme ``is inching closer to the realisation of its plans for interplanetary missions and a mission to Mars has become a priority for us.''
Isro officials, however, preferred not to attach much weight to his declaration reiterating that beyond informal studies about a possible flight to Mars, no major or significant progress has been made in this area. They even went to the extent of saying that the Space Commission, the body which gives the green light to all Isro projects, has yet to approve a Mars mission.
Be that as it may, the question then is-- will the head of the country's space agency openly make a committment saying that a ``mission to Mars for several reasons has become a priority for us?'' Why would he say this? His remark has triggered speculation that the Mars project could have perhaps made some progress beyond the usual level of informal analysis and discussions by Isro officials, which as usual is being kept under wraps. It is possible that most officials in Isro are out of the chairman's loop and have not been kept updated about different missions.
Radhakrishnan told the students that ``deep space missions have their own challenges, Gravitational forces from different planets,x-rays from sun and various hazards have to be carefully monitored besides a study of Martian surface.''
For India it is doubtless that a mission to Mars has become a priority for three reasons:-
* A Russian mission to Mars, Phobos-Grunt, on which a payload from China designated as Yinghuo-1 is slated for launch in 2013.
* China has announced plans to launch its own orbiter to Mars in 2013.
* A mission to Mars is part of the Japanese space agenda.
In this Asian scenario, it is obvious that India will not lag behind. One cannot hide the fact that there is a Race To The Red Planet.
What better proof that this country is serious about a mission to Mars than a workshop being organised by the Physical Research Laboratory at Ahmedabad between January 3 and 7 2011 on ``Exploration of Mars and Moon.'' The announcement says that a ``Mars mission is under planning.''
And a few days ago a programme about ``Mission To Mars,'' by Sky News relating to Nasa's ``Hundred Years Starship Programme,'' talks about four countries which are currently in a Race to Mars. They are India, Russia, China and the US.
Father of the Indian moon mission, Krishnaswamy Kasturirangan, has always maintained that a mission to Mars will always be a logical folo-up to a mission to moon.
So, it is absolutely clear that India is on the way to Mars, though Isro officials prefer to keep quite about it.