NEW DELHI – India’s Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) spacecraft successfully entered Mars’ orbit Sept. 24, making India the first nation in Asia to reach the red planet.

"After a 300-day marathon covering over 670 million km (420 million mi.), the orbiter successfully entered the Martian orbit and is located at about 515 km from its surface," a senior scientist at the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) said.

At 7:17 a.m. local time, the spacecraft’s 440 Newton Liquid Apogee Motor (LAM) was fired up for 24 min. to slow the spacecraft from 22.1 km per second to 4.4 km per second to allow capture by the red planet.

"Because of the Mars-Sun-Earth geometry, the orbit insertion happened while the MOM was in eclipse. At that time the MOM was dependent on the battery for all the power required," the scientist says.

During MOM’s orbital insertion, its signals took about 12 min., 28 sec. to travel to Earth for reception by NASA’s Deep Space Network Stations in Canberra, Australia, and Goldstone, California, that relayed the data in real time to ISRO’s station in Bengaluru.

The confirmation of orbit entry was received at around 7:55 a.m. local time. At perigee the orbiter, nick-named Mangalyaan, will be 366 km from the planet’s surface, and about 80,000 km away at apogee.

The silent mission control room at ISRO erupted with elation when the announcement, "All engines of Mars orbiter are going strong. Burn confirmed," was made.

India Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who watched from ISRO’s mission control room, said, "History has been created ... we have dared to reach out into the unknown and have achieved the near-impossible."

With the success of the 4.5 billion rupees (around $75 million) project, ISRO has become the fourth international space agency – after NASA, Russian space agency Roscosmos and the European Space Agency – to have undertaken successful missions to Mars. Russia took 10 attempts, while the U.S. managed success after six. China and Japan are still trying. In fact, only 21 of the 51 missions to Mars have been successful.

"Despite our many limitations, we have succeeded. It is a shining symbol of what we are capable of as a nation ... A successful space program generates efforts across multiple domains," Modi said.

The1,350-kg (3,000-lb.) spacecraft’s five instruments will now be switched on to study Mars’ atmosphere for six months, scanning for methane gas and life-sustaining elements.

According to the ISRO scientist, "the Lyman alpha photometer will measure the relative abundance of deuterium and hydrogen in the upper Martian atmosphere to understand [the] previous presence of water on the planet. A methane sensor will look for sources of the gas. While the Mars color camera will take pictures, a thermal infrared spectrometer will study heat emission, minerals and soil on Mars."