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India Launches Mars Mission

India has launched a space probe to Mars, seeking to become one of only a few nations to reach the Red Planet.

The unmanned craft blasted off Tuesday from the southeastern island of Sriharikota, the start of a 300-day journey to Mars.

The orbiter will gather data to help determine how weather systems work on Mars. It also will investigate what happened to the water that is believed to have existed on the planet, and it will look for the chemical methane, a key component to life on Earth.

Only the United States, Russia and the European Union have succeeded in reaching Earth's neighbor. More than half the world's attempts to send a probe to orbit Mars have failed, including attempts by Japan and China.



The United States is the only nation to have successfully sent explorers to land on Mars, the most recent being Curiosity.

The U.S. space agency, NASA, says it will help to monitor the Indian orbiter from three deep-space facilities. It also will send its own probe, Maven, to Mars later this month.

NASA says some of the data Maven will collect will complement the research gathered by the Indian craft.

If successful, India will have launched the cheapest-ever mission to Mars. The total cost of the mission is $73 million, less than a sixth of the cost of a U.S. Mars mission set to blast off 13 days later. India has been criticized for allocating funding to its space program while many of its people live in poverty-stricken conditions. But New Delhi says the space program helps create economic development, boosting the nation's economy for the long term.

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