Madhavan Nair
Former chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) G. Madhavan Nair holds a miniature replica of India's Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) C-9 after its launch from the Satish Dhawan space centre at Sriharikota, on April 28, 2008.Reuters

With just four days to go for the much-awaited Mars Orbit Insertion on 24 September that will decide Mangalyaan's fate, former chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) G Madhavan Nair spoke to International Business Times India Edition

While Nair was known to be a big critic of the Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) at the time of its launch, he seems to have a more positive take now and believes that India's first Mars mission will succeed, giving a major boost to prayers and hopes running across every Indian's mind as the D-Day approaches. 

His responses, however, come in sharp contrast to a recent interview he gave to a Malayalam news channel, where he spoke of the limitations of the mission. 

Below are the key excerpts from the interview: 

IBT: There are just a few days to go before the Mars Orbit Insertion. You have been critical of this mission from the start. What do you have to say as Mangalyaan is in the final stage of its journey?

Nair: Whatever criticism I had was before the launch. Since the mission has already been launched, we all have to look forward to it now. From what I have understood of the steps taken by scientists at ISRO, it should succeed and it will be a major milestone for us.

IBT: What do you think is the probability of success for the mission?

Nair: I would rate Mangalyaan's chances of success at more than 90%. I have full faith in the ISRO scientific community and I am sure they have taken all steps to see that the mission is successful. Unless something unfortunate happens, the mission will be successful.

IBT: What could be the major challenges to the mission?

Nair: The main challenge is that the rocket engine has been idle for a long period of nearly 300 days, and that could pose a challenge. But the engine has been used by ISRO before for many of its missions, so I don't think it will be a major concern. The commands will have to be precisely timed to get it right, and I am sure the scientists will pull it off.

IBT: In an interview to a regional channel in Kerala, you had said that even if the Mars Orbiter Mission is successful, the results from it will not match the standards of NASA's missions and that the latter already has a lot of information. Is that discouraging for the Indian mission?

Nair: Yes and No. It is true that NASA has much more advanced technology and has managed to collect a lot of information from Mars over several years. NASA has already confirmed the presence of methane and even the composition of the atmosphere on Mars. We cannot match NASA's mission on the basis of technical ability at this moment.

So, it would be wrong to compare the Indian Mars Mission with NASA's mission.

But that said, NASA will not share all its information readily with anyone. So it is important that we have our own database, and the Mars mission could be the first step towards that.

IBT: You had also previously said that the Moon mission should be a bigger priority in the Indian space programme.

Nair: I have had a difference of opinion about priority to be given to the Moon Mission, but once the decision has been taken, we should stick by it. We cannot ignore Mars as it is very important for us.

IBT: You have also always maintained that the scientific community should focus more on how it can benefit the common man.

Nair: Such missions are only a small section of our responsibility, and our major thrust should be on social benefits. We have to push ourselves more in the fields of tele-medicine and tele-education. I was very happy that Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself spoke about this.

We also have to focus a lot on the R&D factor and work towards setting up more powerful satellites and getting next-generation vehicles.

But our Moon mission and Mars mission are important, too, as they are investments for the future. There should be follow-on missions as well.

In fact, we should also work towards ensuring our neighbors get benefits too, and I was glad that the Prime Minister spoke of working with SAARC nations. I completely agree with him.

IBT: Finally, will you be waking up early on 24 September to watch the Mars Orbit Insertion?

Nair: I will be travelling that day, but I will definitely try to watch the mission live. I have been tracking the journey.