India to launch mission to Mars this week

India wants to become the fourth nation or group of nations on the planet to reach Mars. India plans to launch a spacecraft called Mangalyaan, which means "Mars Craft" in Hindi. If successful, India will become the fourth nation to reach the red planet behind the Soviet Union, US, and a European conglomerate of countries.

Scientists in India hope that its mission to Mars will showcase technology and its ability to explore the solar system while allowing it to seek solutions for problems on earth. The country sees its mission primarily as a technology demonstration according to an Indian official.

K Radhakrishnan, chairman of the Indian Space and Research organization said:

We have a lot to understand about the universe, the solar system where we live in, and it has been humankind's quest from the beginning.

We want to use the first opportunity to put a spacecraft and orbit it around Mars and, once it is there safely, then conduct a few meaningful experiments and energize the scientific community.

Sending a spacecraft to Mars is a big challenge with success on an initial attempt being very unlikely. Currently about 23/40 missions slated to reach Mars launched by countries around the world have failed.

Both Japan and China have had missions to Mars fail in the past. The Indian spacecraft will launch on Tuesday from the Indian space Center on the island of Shriharikota. The mission is expected to take 300 days and the goal is to orbit Mars with a craft capable of surveying the red planet's geology and atmosphere. The spacecraft has five instruments aboard to study how Martian weather systems work in an attempt to discover what happened to the water the planet may have once had.