Mission Mangal is Bollywood’s first venture into space and hence, is quite a significant milestone for Indian cinema. Though the movie is based on the actual ISRO mission to Mars, Mangalyaan, it does take quite a few creative liberties to entertain us.
Here are a few things that the movie got right, wrong, or ignored completely.
The GSLV Incident
The movie starts with the failure of a GSLV-MK2 launch, and this was the depiction of the real-life incident that took place on the 25th of December 2010. The Geostationary Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) carrying a telecommunications satellite was destroyed about a minute after liftoff and led to a loss of ₹3 billion (₹1.25 billion for the satellite).
This was the second consecutive failure and the first time a failure had occurred with the first stage of the flight. The future of the GSLV program was at stake because out six previous launches of GSLV only two were totally successful and two were partial successes.
Cut to 5th of June 2017, and India cemented its self-sufficiency in space exploration with the successful launch of GSLV-MK3 which had an indigenously developed cryogenic engine. GSLV-MK3 was also used to put Chandrayaan2 on its historic mission to the south pole of the Moon.
The movie makes it look like a bunch of inexperienced misfits pulled off the mission. But in reality, the men and women who work on Mangalyaan are some of the most seasoned scientists and engineers in the country. And the real team was more than a hundred people and not just a handful in a dingy office building in Bengaluru.
The movie also suggests that the components used in the orbiter were made under one roof by the same handful of people but in reality, they were manufactured at different facilities. For example, colour cameras and scientific instruments, used to study the atmosphere of Mars, were developed at Ahmedabad.
Mission Mangal does a good job of explaining complex terminologies like launch windows, orbital periods, and the Earth-Mars orbital relationship through easily understandable analogies.
One thing that stood out for us was the ‘puris’ example. While explained well, the movie makes it seem like gravity assists have not been used in the past. This is not true. NASA has used gravity assists to increase the velocity of the Voyager, Galileo, and Cassini probes. But the use of Hoffman’s transfer was an ingenious solution that would’ve stalled our first interplanetary mission till GSLV was fully operational.
The movie shows issues with the weather conditions at Sriharikota and in the Pacific Ocean that leads to a delayed launch. This is partially true as the ships that carried the communication equipment, and were central to the success of the mission, were faced with rough weather conditions close to the Fiji islands and could not reach their positions on time. This led to a 10-day delay.
As shown in the movie, Mangalyaan costs just a fraction of what it took NASA to pull off their MAVEN mission. Budgeted at $74 million, Mangalyaan cost just 11 per cent of MAVEN’s $671 million. But before we start celebrating, there one thing that the movie does not talk about. MAVEN carried far more sophisticated equipment and weighed twice as much. ISRO kept the payload small, about 15 kgs, and less complex.
While the instruments were less complex, thereby reducing the scientific capability of the mission, ISRO scientists played smart by targeting some really important areas that will complement what others space agencies were doing. For example, Mangalyaan has an instrument to measure methane in the Martian atmosphere – something that the international community is really excited as Methane, on Earth, is produced by microbes living in the digestive tracts of animals.
Mission Mangal shows the probe being hit by a solar storm and asteroids along the way. This, fortunately, did not happen in real life. It would’ve been a death sentence to the probe and we would not have been the first nation to get to Mars in the first try.
Mangalyaan did, however, have a slight technical issue when the final thrust to push the orbiter into the designated trajectory to Mars did not exert the required amount of force. This was corrected instantly and was just a minor hiccup to what was otherwise a flawless mission.
The movie ends with Modi’s speech about how historic the mission is and so on. But something that the makers missed out on was a lovable tweet crafted by the team at ISRO.
Mission Mangal shows the infamous New York Times cartoon as printed after the failed GSLV launch. But it was actually printed after the success of Mangalyaan and created quite a stir that resulted in NYT issuing an apology.
Not ones to take a punch lying down, Times of India responded with a modified version after ISRO created a record by launching 104 satellites into space (beating the previous record of 37 satellites, held by Russia).
Images of Mars
Mangalyaan is the only orbiter that has been able to take a full disc image of Mars due to its elongated orbit. And this is something that the movie should’ve shown audiences.
Though the movie over dramatised the sequence of events and narrated a very Bollywood-masala-filled version of the story, we hope that this will be the beginning of many movies that will talk about the strides we have made in the field of space exploration. And who knows, Mission Mangal might be the trigger that would set us on a path to some quality space-related sci-fi movies.