India's Mars Orbiter Mission has sent back breathtaking images of the Martian surface. The latest stunning images from the Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM), sent to Earth on India's Independence Day, August 15, shows Ophir Chasma, part of the Valles Marineris, the largest canyon system in our solar system.
The gallery of photos -- built into beautiful 3D portrayals of the canyon system by Indian technicians -- was snapped by the Mars Colour Camera aboard MOM on July 19 from an altitude of about 1,857 km (1,154 miles), with a resolution of 96 meters.
The photos reveal the rugged terrain -- deep valleys with sheer walls and soaring cliffs -- of a section of the Valles Marineris canyon system, called the Ophir Chasma, that is about 317 km (197 miles) long, 62 km (38.5 miles) wide, and 8 to 10 kilometers deep.
The entire Valles Marineris canyon system is more than 4,000 km (2,500 miles) long and about 600 km wide.
According to India's Department of Space, "the walls contain many layers and the floors contain large deposits of layered materials."
The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) launched the Mars Orbiter Mission -- also known in Sanskrit as "Mangalyaan" -- on November 5, 2013, using a Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) that took off from the First Launch Pad at Satish Dhawan Space Center in Andhra Pradesh.
The historic mission was achieved on a shoestring budget of $74 million.
The Mars orbiter went into Mars orbit on September 24, 2015, from where it has been sending back to Earth a steady stream of images captured by its Thermal Infrared Spectrometer and the Mars Colour Camera.
The amazing achievement of the Indian space mission is best put into perspective through comparison with NASA's $671 million budget for its Maven Mars Orbiter Mission, also launched in November, 2013.
As CNET points out, India achieved the mission at less cost that Hollywood produced the movie Gravity, which cost $100 million.
Equally remarkable is the fact that India succeeded at the first attempt at launching an interplanetary mission, compared with other space agencies that failed at their first attempts.
India achieved the enviable distinction of the first country to reach Mars orbit at the first attempt and the fourth space agency in the world to reach Mars after NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA), and the Russian space agency.
According to ISRO, the mission was launched primarily as a "technology demonstrator" project to help lay the groundwork for planning and launching future deep-space/interplanetary missions.
The mission has achieved its objective, but MOM will remain in Mars orbit and continue sending data from Mars for as long as it remains functional.