Encouraged by the successful Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) that reached the Red Planet this week, Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) scientists dream big of further space exploration, pondering future Mars missions. One of them is the former ISRO chairman Udupi Ramachandra Rao, popularly known as U. R. Rao. "I think that the first human feet will walk on Mars before the year 2030. It might not be us but whoever has the capability will achieve it by this time," he told the New Indian Express. "Mars is important because it is the nearest neighbour to us and is almost like Earth. It is the most 'home-like' planet compared to Venus which is extremely hot and Mercury which is hot as well besides being too small. The gravitational field of Mars is half of Earth but not zero."

Currently the Chairman of the Governing Council of the Physical Research Laboratory at Ahmedabad, India, Rao was the chief of ISRO from 1984-1994. After taking charge as Chairman, he accelerated the development of rocket technology resulting in the successful launch of ASLV rocket in 1992. He was also responsible for the development of the operational PSLV launch vehicle, which successfully launched an 850 kg satellite into a polar orbit in 1995. Rao initiated the development of the geostationary launch vehicle GSLV and the development of cryogenic technology in 1991. He was responsible for successful launch of INSAT satellites.

Rao pointed out that Mars has a lot of useful resources and as we finish our supply of the earth’s resources, we will have to search new places. "One of the options available to us is Mars. There is the Moon as well but it doesn’t have the amount of resources Mars does," he said.

Speaking of lunar exploration he said that the upcoming Chandrayaan 2 mission would put a lander and a rover on the moon. He also admitted that this is a very complicated procedure which requires failsafe technology.

He also discussed India's recent success, MOM orbit insertion. "For ISRO and India, the very fact that you are going all the way to Mars and then reducing velocity considerably to ensure orbit insertion is also a technological achievement," he said. "There is a lot of accuracy involved and control systems have to be absolutely correct. No one has succeeded yet in their first attempt and 50 percent of Mars missions have failed so far. When it comes to space science, almost near will not help, it has to be spot on."

Rao acknowledged that there were several challenges for ISRO to overcome and the selection of the experiments was one. "We were given only 15 kg. We hope to get meaningful data on methane as well as neutral particles," he said.

MOM will be looking for methane on Mars, which could be proof of life. A sensor onboard the spacecraft would pick up the methane absorption wavelength and measure the magnitude of methane up to the surface of the planet.