"It's lift off," said a commentator on state television as the red-and-black rocket blasted into a slightly overcast sky on schedule at
The 350-tonne launch vehicle carrying an unmanned probe was monitored by dozens of tense-looking scientists in white lab coats who faced their most daunting task since
The country has never before attempted inter-planetary travel, and more than half of all missions to Mars have ended in failure, including
After 44 minutes, applause rippled around the control room after monitoring ships stationed in the
The timing and place of the announcement -- in an
The gold-coloured probe, the size of a small car, will aim to detect methane in the Martian atmosphere. It has been hurriedly assembled and was carried into orbit by a rocket much smaller than US or Russian equivalents.
Lacking the power to fly directly, the spacecraft will orbit Earth for nearly a month, building up the necessary velocity to break free from our planet's gravitational pull.
Only then will it begin the second stage of its journey which will test
The cost of the Mars mission is
"We didn't believe they'd be able to launch this early," project scientist for the NASA Mars probe,
He underlined that Mars, which has a complicated orbit meaning it is between 50-400 million kilometres from Earth, was a far more complex prospect compared with a moon mission.
"When you shoot a rocket at Mars you have to take into account that Mars is going to move a good deal before you get there. The moon is fairly close," he said.
There have been recent setbacks for
The programme also has to contend with critics who say a country that struggles to feed its people adequately and where more than half have no toilets should not be splurging on space travel.
ISRO counters that its technology has helped economic development through satellites which monitor weather and water resources, or enable communication in remote areas.
One of its discoveries appeared to undercut the purpose of the Indian mission to find evidence of methane, which would lend credence to the idea of Mars supporting a primitive form of life.
A study of data from Curiosity, published in September, found the rover had detected only trace elements of methane in the atmosphere.
"Remember that it (Curiosity's methane reading) is for a single spot. One point doesn't make it a story for the whole planet," top Indian space scientist
Clouds of methane have previously been identified by telescopes on Mars, but the gas has never been confirmed by a mission there.
Methane on Earth is mostly produced by micro-organisms, so a positive reading would suggest some form of life on a planet that scientists believe was once covered with water.
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