12:37 By Vishnu Chandrasenan

Mangalyaan is now orbitting Earth at an apogee(farthest distance from Earth) of 1.92 lakh kilometers. ISRO engineers have successfully imparted 5 orbit raising maneuvers to the spacecraft. With each burn, the orbit is further raised, until enough velocity is gained to break away from Earth's gravitational influence.

The tedious and time consuming orbital raising burns could have been avoided if ISRO had a bigger rocket at its disposal. GSLV(Geo Synchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle) could have been the ideal one, which is more bigger and powerful as compared to the presently used PSLV. But ISRO is still sorting out issues with experimentation of its indigenously built cryogenic engine. Hence they avoided GSLV for Mangalyaan mission. GSLV could have directly blasted Mangalyaan to a very high altitude orbit and thus allowing it to easily break away from the gravitational sphere of Earth. A section of ISRO's engineers are already working on it. GSLV will be used for Chandrayaan II mission, which will have a Lander and Rover on moon. GSLV may also prove to be the launch vehicle for ISRO's most ambitious mission to the Sun, called Adithya. It will be studying the Sun's corona and I can't repress my excitement that this mission will be offering all of us.

Turning our attention back to Mangalyaan, while on its long journey towards Mars, ISRO engineers decided to point the Colour Camera on the spacecraft towards Earth to take a picture of the Indian subcontinent, the birthplace of Mangalyaan.

It resulted in an amazing image of our planet taken from 67975 km on November 19, 2013. The picture was taken at 1:50 pm IST. In this image, each pixel on your screen is equivalent to 3.53 km on the ground.

The image was taken during testing of the components on board Mars Orbiter spacecraft. The spacecraft is now orbiting in deep space.

The image is a testimony to our nation's hard working ISRO team. Just imagine the pride and happiness that the scientists and engineers feel when their baby is in deep space and it looks back to give a salute to the men who made it possible.

One important thing to note is that the image has been taken from a height of 67945 km, which is similar to the altitude at which Mangalyaan will be orbiting Mars. So the clarity of this image offer clues to what we can expect from photos of Mars when we reach there. We can rest assured that it will be an amazing moment.

Meanwhile, NASA has launched MAVEN(Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN) on November 18, an expensive and more advanced probe to Mars which will be giving company to Mangalyaan on its long journey to the red planet. MAVEN will also reach Mars at approximately the same time that Mangalyaan will be reaching. ISRO spokesperson has also claimed that NASA and ISRO will be sharing data and thereby assisting each other in their dedicated missions. The next big date for ISRO will be December 1, when they will be firing the 440 Newton engine to give Mangalyaan a final push to leave the Earth and embark on it 300 day journey to Mars covering a whopping distance of 40 Crore kilometers.

Now have a look at this stunning image of your place on Earth from 67,975 km from the eyes of Mangalyaan. Notice the clouds and its shadow on the ocean below it. We can also observe that the Sun has moved to the left of India from the reflection of it in the ocean, indicating that noon time in India has passed. The sun passes from east towards west. Remember, the photo was taken at 1:50pm IST, which is 110 minutes past the local noon time.

And for more interested readers, you can view a detailed interview of ISRO Chairman K Radhakrishnan, an inspirational role model, giving us tonnes of information regarding this mission.


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