India's low-cost mission to Mars successfully entered the red planet's orbit on Wednesday, crowning what Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said was a "near impossible" push to complete the trip on its maiden attempt.
The Mars Orbiter Mission cost $74 million — about three-quarters of the amount to make the Oscar-winning movie "Gravity," about astronauts stranded in space after debris cripples their space shuttle.
"History has been created today," said Modi, who burst into applause along with hundreds of scientists at the state-run Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) command center in the southern city of Bangalore when it was announced the mission had been accomplished. "We have dared to reach out into the unknown and have achieved the near impossible."
Modi has said he wants to expand the country's five-decade-old space program.
With a spacecraft around Mars, India joins the United States, the former USSR and the European Space Agency in having successfully sent a probe to orbit or land on Mars. The U.S., the USSR, China, Japan and the ESA all suffered failures in their initial Mars attempts.
The ISRO successfully fired the probe's main 440-Newton liquid engine and eight small thrusters for 24 minutes to trim the speed of the craft and allow smooth orbit insertion in Mars' shadow.
After completing the 414 million mile journey in more than 10 months, the spacecraft, Mangalyaan ("Mars craft" in Hindi), will now study the red planet's surface and scan its atmosphere for methane. It will not land on Mars. It will be in the company of NASA's spacecraft MAVEN, which slipped into orbit around Mars on Sunday to scan the planet's upper atmosphere. MAVEN cost $671 million, almost 10 times the Indian mission's stated cost.
The technological triumph is fortuitously timed for Modi; he will be able to flaunt the achievement on a trip to the U.S. starting on Friday that includes an address to the United Nations.
"The success of our space program is a shining symbol of what we are capable of as a nation. Our space program has been an example of achievement," he said. He holds the additional charge as India's minister of space and in June endorsed the low cost of the project.
The country's space program was launched in the early 1960s, and India developed its own rocket technology after Western powers imposed sanctions for a nuclear weapons test in 1974.
Al Jazeera and Reuters