NEW DELHI (AP) — With homegrown technology and a remarkably low budget of about $75 million, India was on course to become the first nation to conduct a successful Mars mission on its first try.
If the Mars Orbiter Mission, affectionately nicknamed MOM, settles into orbit on Wednesday morning as planned, India will join the U.S., European Space Agency and the former Soviet Union in the elite club of Martian explorers.
The next few hours will be crucial as the Indian Space and Research Organisation commands a series of maneuvers to position the spacecraft in its designated orbit around Mars.
"We have to excel," space agency chief K. Radhakrishnan said, adding that the mission would "establish the capabilities of India to orbit a spacecraft around Mars."
If India can pull it off, it would be a major feat for the developing country of 1.2 billion people, most of which are poor. At the same time, India has a robust scientific and technical education system that has produced millions of software programmers, engineers and doctors.
It would also be the first success on a maiden attempt. More than half the world's previous attempts — 23 out of 41 missions — have failed, including attempts by Japan in 1999 and China in 2011.
Scientists were giddy when the orbiter reached the outer sphere of Mars' gravitational pull on Monday, after the main liquid engine successfully fired after being dormant for 300 days as the satellite traveled 666 million kilometers (413 million miles) since breaking away from Earth's gravitational sphere on Dec. 1.
"The spacecraft is healthy. It has completed 98 percent of its journey to Mars," Radhakrishnan said. The Indian space agency confirmed that MOM had a "perfect burn for 4 seconds as programmed" that adjusted the spaceship's trajectory.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi plans to join scientists at the agency's command center in Bangalore to monitor the satellite's final insertion into orbit on Wednesday morning.
The 1,350-kilogram (nearly 3,000-pound) orbiter would join NASA's Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution mission, or Maven, which reached its position around the Red Planet on Sunday for a price tag of $671 million — nearly 10 times that of MOM's.
Maven's chief investigator, Bruce Jakosky of the University of Colorado, said the U.S. team was rooting for the Indian mission. "We're hoping for their success," he said Monday. "We're sending them the best wishes from the entire Maven team."
There are three more satellites already circling the planet — NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and Mars Odyssey, and the ESA's Mars Express. On the Martian surface, NASA's Curiosity and Opportunity rovers are rolling across rocky terrain.
India has said the spacecraft — also called Mangalyaan, meaning "Mars craft" in Hindi — is chiefly meant to showcase the country's high-tech space abilities. Already, India has successfully launched a lunar orbiter, Chandrayaan-1, which discovered key evidence of water on the Moon in 2008.
MOM's scientific goals including using five solar-powered instruments to gather data that will help determine how Martian weather systems work and what happened to the water that is believed to have once existed on Mars in large quantities. It also will search Mars for methane, a key chemical in life processes on Earth that could also come from geological processes.
None of the instruments will send back enough data to answer these questions definitively, but experts say the data will help them better understand how planets form, what conditions might make life possible and where else in the universe it might exist. Some of the data will complement research expected to be conducted by Maven.
The spacecraft is expected to circle the planet for at least six months, following an elliptical orbit that gets within 365 kilometers (227 miles) of the planet's surface at its closest and 80,000 kilometers (49,700 miles) at its farthest.
Radhakrishnan said that while the space agency hopes to soon put a rover on the Moon and to launch another space mission to study the Sun, its main focus will remain developing technologies for commercial and navigational satellite applications.
WASHINGTON (AP) — Investigators found more than 800 rounds of ammunition, a machete and two hatchets in the car of the former soldier accused of scaling the White House fence and sprinting inside while carrying a knife, a U.S. prosecutor said Monday. President Barack Obama was "obviously concerned" about the weekend incident, a spokesman said.
The Secret Service , which protects the president and his family, increased security around the famous grounds on Pennsylvania Avenue in the nation's capital, some guards openly holding weapons, others escorting dogs. There was talk of expanding the security zone beyond the current area as a major investigation began into the question of how the man managed to get to the building without being stopped.
On Monday evening, a temporary, second layer of fence was set up along the north side of the White House, in an apparent attempt to deter additional fence-jumping incidents
Forty-two-year-old Omar J. Gonzalez faces charges of entering a restricted building or grounds while carrying a deadly or dangerous weapon. He had been arrested earlier in the summer in the nearby state of Virginia with a carful of weapons, authorities said, and a federal prosecutor said Monday in court that Gonzalez had had a map then with the White House circled.
Authorities ran into Gonzalez again, less than a month ago on Aug. 25, when he was stopped while walking along the south fence of the White House, his car parked nearby. He had a hatchet in a rear waistband but no firearms, a federal prosecutor said at Monday's hearing. Gonzalez gave permission to search his car and was not arrested.
Friday evening, Obama and his family had left the White House for Camp David when the incident occurred. Gonzalez was seized just inside the building's front door. No guns were found in his car.
In court, Gonzalez, with a gray beard, a shaved head and dressed in a standard prison orange jumpsuit, listened impassively as the prosecutor spoke. He could face up to 10 years in prison if convicted of illegally entering a restricted area with a dangerous weapon.
The Army said he served from 1997 until his discharge in 2003, and again from 2005 to December 2012, when he retired due to disability.
Obama, asked about the incident at the White House, said, "The Secret Service does a great job, and I'm grateful for the sacrifices that they make on my behalf -- and my family's behalf."
But spokesman Josh Earnest said the president was "obviously concerned" about what happened.
At the federal court hearing, Assistant U.S. Attorney David Mudd said Gonzalez already was under indictment in southwestern Virginia, accused of having a sawed-off shotgun and trying to elude police this summer.
In that case, state troopers and agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives found a cache of weapons that included two semi-automatic military style rifles, including one with a bipod and flashlight and one with a bipod and scope, three .45-caliber handguns and several loaded ammunition magazines, Wythe County Deputy Commonwealth Attorney David Saliba said in a telephone interview. Saliba said he also had a hatchet and camping equipment.
The weapons and ammunition were seized in that July 19 incident, but Gonzalez was released on bail.
Earnest said the Secret Service investigation will include a review of protective efforts both inside the White House grounds and outside the fence line along Pennsylvania Avenue, including staffing and threat assessment policies and procedures.
The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee announced it would hold a hearing next week.
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said he would ultimately review the findings of the investigation ordered by Secret Service Director Julia Pierson. Johnson said the public should not rush to judgment about the security breach and urged against second-guessing security officers whom he said "had only seconds to act."
The Secret Service didn't open fire on Gonzalez or send attack dogs after him.
Officers who spotted Gonzalez scale the fence quickly assessed that he didn't have any weapons in his hands and wasn't wearing clothing that could conceal substantial quantities of explosives, a primary reason agents did not fire their weapons, according to a U.S. official briefed on the investigation.
Another consideration was whether bystanders behind the fence could have been hit by errant gunfire, said the official, who was not authorized to discuss the investigation by name and spoke only on condition of anonymity.
The Secret Service has long tried to balance public access to the "People's House" and security of the presidential residence.
The two-block stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House's north gates has been closed to vehicle traffic since May 1995, when President Bill Clinton ordered the immediate closure of the road in an effort to prevent a potential car- or truck-bomb attack.
On any given day, numerous uniformed officers can be seen patrolling parts of the sprawling lawns on either side of the White House, and others are stationed along the fence line on Pennsylvania Avenue. Many more were in view on Monday.
But the pedestrian-only zone hasn't entirely prevented security breaches along the fence.
Last September a man was arrested and accused of throwing firecrackers over the fence on the north lawn, near the area where Gonzalez is accused of climbing over the barrier.
A few weeks later a Connecticut woman set off a police chase through downtown Washington after ramming a security checkpoint near the White House. Miriam Carey, 34, was shot and killed by police near the Capitol.
Less than 24 hours after Gonzalez's arrest, a second man was taken into custody after he drove up to a White House gate, claimed to have an appointment with the president, was allowed through to park but drove past the spot where he was directed to go, the Secret Service said.
The Secret Service identified the man as Kevin Carr, 19, of Shamong, New Jersey. Earlier, Carr had been turned away at a different entrance, which he had approached on foot, claiming he communicated with the president through telepathy, a court document said.
The incidents have only intensified the scrutiny of the Secret Service, which is struggling to rehabilitate its image following a series of allegations of misconduct by agents in recent years, including agents on Obama's protective detail.
Associated Press writers Josh Lederman, Jessica Gresko and Julie Pace contributed to this report.
WASHINGTON (AP) — Combined U.S.-Arab airstrikes hit Islamic State group military strongholds in Syria and Iraq as a simultaneous U.S. strike attacked an al-Qaida cell of hardened veterans with "significant explosives skills" said to be plotting attacks on the U.S. and Western interests, the U.S. military said.
The top American military official, Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, said the U.S. and its Arab allies achieved their aim of showing the extremists that their savage attacks will not go unanswered.
The U.S. and five Arab nations attacked the Islamic State group's headquarters in eastern Syria in nighttime raids Monday using land- and sea-based U.S. aircraft as well as Tomahawk cruise missiles launched from two Navy ships in the Red Sea and the northern Persian Gulf.
American warplanes also carried out eight airstrikes to disrupt what the military described as "imminent attack plotting against the United States and Western interests" by the shadowy Khorosan Group, a network of al-Qaida veterans working with the Yemeni branch of al-Qaida, known as Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, to get foreign fighters with Western passports and explosives to target U.S. aviation.
The White House said President Barack Obama would speak about the airstrikes before flying to New York on Tuesday morning for the United Nations General Assembly meeting.
U.S. officials said five Arab nations either participated in the airstrikes or provided unspecified support. They were Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates. Dempsey said their role was indispensable to the U.S. goal of showing that the battle to degrade and defeat the Islamic State group is not just a U.S. fight.
Dempsey called the strikes an unprecedented coalition with Arab states and said the partnering has set the stage for a broader international campaign against the extremists.
"We wanted to make sure that ISIL knew they have no safe haven, and we certainly achieved that," Dempsey told reporters as he flew to Washington after a weeklong trip to Europe. ISIL is an alternate acronym for the Islamic State group whose fighters swept across much of Iraq this summer.
Dempsey said the five Arab nations' agreement to join in the airstrikes came together quickly. "Once we had one of them on board, the others followed quickly thereafter," he said, adding that the partnership came together over the past three days. "We now have a kind of credible campaign against ISIL that includes a coalition of partners."
Several hours after the Pentagon announced the airstrikes against Islamic State targets, U.S. Central Command said American warplanes also launched eight airstrikes "to disrupt the imminent attack plotting against the United States and Western interests" by a network of al-Qaida veterans — sometimes known as the Khorasan Group — who have established a haven in Syria. It provided no details on the plotting.
Dempsey said the decision to launch both operations simultaneously was influenced by a concern that word of strikes in eastern Syria could prompt the al-Qaida veterans to disperse. The Khorasan Group "may have scattered" if the attack missions had been done sequentially rather than simultaneously, he said.
Central Command said the bombing mission against that group was undertaken solely by U.S. aircraft and took place west of the Syrian city of Aleppo. It said targets included training camps, an explosives and munitions production facility, a communication building and command and control facilities.
The airstrikes against Islamic State targets were carried out in the city of Raqqa and other areas in eastern Syria. The strikes were part of the expanded military campaign that Obama authorized nearly two weeks ago in order to disrupt and destroy the Islamic State militants, who have slaughtered thousands of people, beheaded Westerners — including two American journalists — and captured large swaths of Syria and northern and western Iraq.
The airstrikes began around 8:30 p.m. EDT. Central Command said the U.S. fired 47 Tomahawk cruise missiles from aboard the USS Arleigh Burke and USS Philippine Sea, operating from international waters in the Red Sea and the northern Persian Gulf. U.S. Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps fighter jets, drones and bombers also participated.
Syria's Foreign Ministry said the U.S. informed Syria's envoy to the U.N. that "strikes will be launched against the terrorist Daesh group in Raqqa." The statement used an Arabic name to refer to the Islamic State group.
Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, said Tuesday the strikes weren't coordinated with the regime of President Bashar Assad, but added: "There was no resistance, no interaction with Syrian air forces or military defenses" during the operation.
Russia's foreign ministry warned Tuesday that what it called "unilateral" air strikes would destabilize the region. "The fight against terrorists in the Middle East and northern Africa requires coordinated efforts of the entire global community under the auspices of the U.N.," the foreign ministry said in a statement.
Activists said the airstrikes hit targets in and around the Syrian city of Raqqa and the province with the same name. Raqqa is the Islamic State group's self-declared capital in Syria.
Rami Abdurrahman, who heads the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, told The Associated Press, "There is confirmed information that there are casualties among Islamic State group members."
Dempsey said Arab participation needs to extend beyond direct military roles to assisting in an international effort to undercut finances, recruiting and ideological support for the Islamic State group.
"What we're talking about now is the beginning of an air campaign," he said, adding that it must lead to what he called "the other air campaign" — an effort to fill public airwaves across the Muslim world with arguments for why the extremists must be defeated.
At a conference on Sept. 11 with Secretary of State John Kerry, key Arab allies promised they would "do their share" to fight the Islamic State militants. The Obama administration, which at a NATO meeting in Wales earlier this month also got commitments from European allies as well as Canada and Australia, has insisted that the fight against the Islamic State militants could not be the United States' fight alone.
In a speech Sept. 10, Obama vowed to go after the Islamic State militants wherever they may be. His military and defense leaders told Congress last week that airstrikes within Syria are meant to disrupt the group's momentum and provide time for the U.S. and allies to train and equip moderate Syrian rebels.
The U.S. military has been launching targeted airstrikes in Iraq since August, focusing specifically on attacks to protect U.S. interests and personnel, assist Iraqi refugees and secure critical infrastructure. Last week, as part of the newly expanded campaign, the U.S. began going after militant targets across Iraq, including enemy fighters, outposts, equipment and weapons.
To date, U.S. fighter aircraft, bombers and drones have launched about 190 airstrikes within Iraq.
Urged on by the White House and U.S. defense and military officials, Congress passed legislation late last week authorizing the military to arm and train moderate Syrian rebels. Obama signed the bill into law Friday, providing $500 million for the U.S. to train about 5,000 rebels over the next year.
The militant group, meanwhile, has threatened retribution. Its spokesman, Abu Mohammed al-Adnani, said in a 42-minute audio statement released Sunday that the fighters were ready to battle the U.S.-led military coalition and called for attacks at home and abroad.
Burns reported from aboard a U.S. military aircraft. Associated Press writers Zeina Karam, Julie Pace and Matthew Lee in New York, Josh Lederman in Washington and Bassem Mroue in Beirut contributed to this report.
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama is pledging new U.S. help for other nations struggling to address global warming, as heads of state from around the world converge for a major summit on climate change.
Obama will use his speech at a U.N. summit Tuesday to announce plans to sign an executive order requiring the U.S. government to take climate change into account when it spends money overseas to help poorer countries, the White House said. The U.S. will also offer vulnerable communities abroad new tools to address the effects of climate change through science and technology.
The measures join a host of commitments Obama will announce at the summit, where more than 120 world leaders will gather on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly to galvanize support for a global climate treaty to be finalized next year in Paris. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the summit's host, is expecting leaders to come with specific pledges in hand to mitigate climate change, as a way to show they're serious about ambitious emissions reductions in the treaty.
Obama's goals at the summit: to convince other nations that the U.S. is doing its part to curb greenhouse gases, and make the case that other major polluters should step up, too.
"It's very clear to the international community that the president is extending considerable political capital at home in order to implement his climate plan, and that's true," said Nigel Purvis, a U.S. climate negotiator in the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations. "The hope is that when we take action, others will do so as well."
The White House wouldn't elaborate on the commitments Obama will announce Tuesday. But his senior counselor and climate adviser, John Podesta, said last week the U.S. would offer tangible contributions such as American technology to help poorer communities deal with food security, sea level rise and other negative effects of climate change.
Secretary of State John Kerry announced Monday that the U.S. would contribute $15 million to a World Bank program designed to stimulate funding for projects that reduce methane pollution.
The one-day climate summit isn't formally part of the ongoing negotiations toward the climate treaty, which leaders hope will be more muscular than a lackluster agreement reached in Copenhagen in 2009. The idea is that by involving heads of state early, rather than leaving it to negotiators until the very end, prospects will improve for reaching a strong deal.
In another attempt to increase political pressure on leaders to take action, tens of thousands of activists, including prominent actors and former Vice President Al Gore, demonstrated in New York on Sunday.
BOSTON (AP) — Three Afghanistan National Army officers who went missing during a training exercise at a Cape Cod military base were detained Monday at the U.S.-Canadian border, Massachusetts law enforcement officials said.