India launched its first Mars mission Tuesday
and will become the fourth nation to visit the planet after the Soviet Union, the United States, and European Union if the venture proves successful.
The rocket was launched from the nation's east-coast island of Sriharikota and carried the Mars orbiter Mangalyaan, which means "Mars craft" in Hindi, The Associated Press reported
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Mission Director P. Kunhikrishnan, who is the chairman of the Indian Space and Research Organization, said the "textbook launch" was successful, and that "capturing and igniting the young minds of India and across the globe will be the major return from this mission."
"With teamwork and the kind of dedication we have today, any mission is not beyond our capability," Kunhikrishnan added.
Forty-four minutes into the launch, the rocket and orbiter separated. Over the next 20 to 25 days, it will reportedly perform a variety of technical maneuvers and short burns before it travels toward Mars.
The 3,000-pound orbiter will travel 485 million miles in the next 300 days to reach Mars. It will orbit the planet by September 2014, the AP noted.
"The biggest challenge will be precisely navigating the spacecraft to Mars," K. Radhakrishnan added, according to the AP. "We will know if we pass our examination on Sept. 24, 2014."
The Mars mission project, which cost $72 million, is part of a $1 billion space program. The expensive program has been criticized because a significant percentage of India's 1.2 billion citizens live in poverty.
The government has continuously defended the program's cost, claiming it has helped Indian engineers and scientists test applications that could help solve real world, practical problems.
"These missions are important. These are things that give Indians happiness and bragging rights," Raghu Kalra of the Amateur Astronomers Association Delhi told reporters. "Even a poor person, when he learns that my country is sending a mission to another planet, he will feel a sense of pride for his country, and he will want to make it a better place."
The orbiter will collect data and images to help determine Martian weather systems search for methane gasses in Mars' orbit.
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