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India set to launch mission to Mars

| Monday, Nov. 4, 2013, 9:51 p.m.

NEW DELHI — India will launch a space mission to Mars on Tuesday that, if successful, would beat China to the punch, although some wonder whether the undertaking is the best use of money when many Indians lack food, clean water or basic sanitation facilities.

The 3,000-pound Mars Orbiter Mission probe, or Mangalyaan, is to lift off at 2:38 p.m. local time aboard a 350-ton, four-stage Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, the first step in its 300-day trip to the red planet. The cost of the mission is about $73 million.

The launch — which follows India's successful 2008 moon orbiter mission, the Chandrayaan-1 — is scheduled to take place at the Satish Dhawan Space Center in Sriharikota on the Bay of Bengal about 60 miles north of Chennai in southeastern India.

If successful, India would be the sixth nation to send a probe to Mars, after the United States, Russia, China, Japan and the European Union. But only three of those reached the planet's orbit — China and Japan failed — underscoring the long odds.

If all goes as planned, the orbiter will take about 47 minutes to reach Earth orbit, where it will stay until Dec. 1 before starting the 240-million-mile voyage to Mars. The vessel is slated to reach the red planet's orbit about Sept. 24.

Civic groups have criticized the cost, in a country where hundreds of millions of people still lack toilets.

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