India launched its first Mars bound spacecraft Tuesday morning, from the island of Sriharikota. If the spacecraft reaches Mars on Sept. 24, 2014, the anticipated arrival date calculated by Indian scientists, India's space agency will be the fourth to visit Mars following the Soviets, the Americans and the Europeans.
For the next 20 days the spacecraft will orbit around the Earth before it is hurled towards Mars, traveling more than 485 million miles to begin its orbit around the red planet.
The space capsule includes a sensor that tracks methane – also known as marsh gas – which is believed to be possible evidence of life on Mars. The capsule has also been equipped with a color camera and thermal imaging spectrometer to chart the surface of the planet. The trip is expected to expand scientific knowledge of Earth's closest neighbor, answering questions like: what happened to the large amounts of water that is presumed to have once existed on Mars and what kind of weather systems does Mars have now?
Russell Boyce of the Australian Academy of Science and chairman of the National Committee for Space and Radio Science told CNN that while no "earth-shattering" discoveries would be made as a result of this mission, it is will make India a legitimate competitor in the space race.
"It is a way of showing that you should be taken seriously," Boyce said.
However, that is not the sole purpose of India's launch. Many believe that the space achievements being made by the $72 million project will give Indians a sense of national pride in their country.
"Capturing and igniting the young minds of India and across the globe will be the major return from this mission," P. Kunhikrishnan, mission director, said at the launch site.
"These missions are important. These are things that give Indians happiness and bragging rights," Raghu Kalra of the Amateur Astronomers Association Delhi told AP News. "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."
But critics say using $72 million on a noble yet extravagant goal is impractical for a country whose populace still lives on $1 a day. These critics say India should use the money and the advancement of its technology for more utilitarian projects. But the government defends the space programs saying it provides many high-tech jobs for scientists and engineers, and that the practical applications of some of the technologies can benefit the country, AP News reports.