Look Out Mars, India’s Gonna Get Ya!

India terminates its lunar probe and plans to launch its first Mars mission as early as 2013

India has officially given up on its lunar probe Chandrayaan-1, which launched in 2008 and stayed alive for ten months before mission controllers lost radio contact. But officials are already looking forward to sending a robotic explorer to the red planet.

The nation’s state-run space agency announced today a mission to Mars between 2013 and 2015. Xinhua reports that the planning will become reality after India launches its Chandrayaan-2 lunar rover in 2011.

India joined a new space race with Japan, China and the European Space Agency by launching its Chandrayaan-1 probe in 2008. The U.S. and Russia no longer hold claim as the only nations to have scouted Earth’s natural satellite.

BBC called India’s $100 million lunar mission a “mixed success,” given that the spacecraft survived a number of technical issues that could have ended everything early. A rocket fuel leak almost prevented it from getting off the ground, and a back-up power system had to activate within days of reaching the moon.

Indian mission control also scrambled successfully to prevent the spacecraft from fatally overheating, and jury-rigged workaround solutions when it lost an onboard star sensor due to intense radiation. Chandrayaan-1 finally fell silent on August 29, and India officially terminated the mission a day later.

Still, BBC added that the mission represented a huge technical accomplishment in several ways. Only China had ever previously succeeded on its maiden lunar mission, and India also became the first nation to succeed with both a lunar orbiter and impactor on its first attempt.

The recent Mars mission announcement points to an increasingly competitive future for space exploration. China in particular has aggressive goals to launch a military space station by 2010, and even perhaps to beat NASA’s foundering Constellation program back to the moon.

India has also laid plans for a debut manned mission around 2015. But unlike China, it might want to consider not ruling out astronaut candidates based on bad breath.