India's Space and Research Organization successfully launched The Mangalyaan ("Mars Craft") orbiter Tuesday morning. The rocket took off from the island of Shriharikota, and a sequence of firings took it into an elliptical orbit around Earth before it prepares to cross the solar system towards Mars.
While the Mars mission's half-billion-mile journey is complex and requires precise maneuvering over most of the next year, the launch phase is obviously the most critical part because of the dangers and complexity of launching a multi-stage rocket. The mission cost the equivalent of about $72 million dollars and has stirred controversy in a country where many people suffer extreme poverty. But the space program is a badge of honor for the nation, which has defended it by arguing that technical spin-offs are good for the economy and that it employs thousands of technical people who may otherwise have left the country. On arrival at Mars, India's craft will enter orbit and join a small fleet of US and European spacecraft that are remotely monitoring the planet's surface in the hunt for clues about Mars' past, such as the presence of water or life.
Perhaps the most successful mission on Mars at the moment is the Curiosity rover, which has just passed an entire year on the planet's surface performing studies of soil, rocks and atmosphere in the hunt for signs of life. The rover is currently scaling a small mountain to examine the different materials present. Mars has been in the news a lot recently, thanks to fantastical plans like a one-way manned mission to the planet.