India counts down to first Mars mission
India is counting down to the launch of its first journey to Mars, a complex mission that it hopes will demonstrate and advance technologies for space travel.
Mangalyaan, which means "Mars craft" in Hindi, will ride a powerful rocket first into an elliptical orbit around Earth. There, it will perform a series of technical manoeuvres and short burns to raise its orbit before it slingshots toward Mars.
The 1 350kg orbiter must travel about 780-million kilometres over 300 days to reach the red planet next September.
India is aiming to follow the Soviet Union, United States and Europe in having a successful visit to Mars.
"The biggest challenge will be precisely navigating the space craft to Mars," said K Radhakrishnan, chairperson of the Indian Space and Research Organisation. The space agency will host a live Web cast of Tuesday's launch from the east-coast island of Shriharikota.
Offering prayers for the launch
Radhakrishnan and his wife offered prayers on Tuesday morning at a 200-year-old shrine to the Hindu god Vishnu, asking for success in the launch.
India defends its $1-billion space programme against naysayers who argue the money would be better spent stamping out widespread poverty and hunger by noting its importance in providing high-tech jobs for scientists and engineers and practical applications for solving problems on Earth.
Space research over decades has allowed India to develop satellite, communications and remote sensing technologies that are helping to solve everyday problems, from forecasting where fish can be caught to predicting cataclysmic storms and floods.