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India’s orbiter reaches Mars, making it the 4th nation to visit the planet

Private spaceflight companies like SpaceX may already be preparing to journey to Mars in the next few decades, but it’s still rare for anyone to reach the red planet. India became the fourth nation to have a Mars presence Tuesday night when its Mars Orbiter Spacecraft entered the planet’s orbit. The mission is India’s first to another planet.

India will spend the next few weeks testing the orbiter. It will then begin observing Mars’ surface and atmosphere. It has five major scientific instruments built to sense methane and take color images, among other applications.

India has had a presence in space since 1975 when it launched its first satellite, but it wasn’t until 2008 that the country went to the moon. The Mars Orbiter Mission launched in November 2013.

The mission is remarkable for its relatively low cost. NASA spent $671 million on its MAVEN Mars orbiter, which reached the planet on Sunday. India spent just $74 million.

“We have dared to reach out into the unknown, and have achieved the near-impossible,” Indian prime minister Narendra Modi said in a televised press conference.

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