Sriharikota (ISJ): Today is a big day for Indian space scientists and engineers, whose first interplanetary mission to Mars will blast off at 1438 Hours, with some Western critics wondering "whether the undertaking is the best use of money when many Indians lack food, clean water or basic sanitation facilities". Even the former head of Indian Space Research Organisation, ISRO G. Madhavan Nair, who himself steered 25 successful space missions, including India's maiden moon mission, Chandrayaan-I also turned critique of the Mars mission saying it as "an extravagant mission,
which at best can serve as a publicity stunt." The launch of Mangalyaan or Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) is scheduled for 1438 hrs from ISRO's launch pad at Sriharikota in southern India. According to ISRO officials, all vehicle systems are switched on for the final eight and half hour countdown, which started at 0608 hrs this morning, after completion of second stage propellant filling operations. In the first 42 minutes of flight, Mangalyaan will be put into a 248 km-by-23,000 km elliptical Earth Parking Orbit, where it will stay until December 01, before moving to the 240-million-mile voyage to Mars. The spacecraft is expected to reach the Red Planet?s orbit by September, 2014. If successful, India will be amongst the select club of spacefaring countries and amongst them, it will be to the credit of innovations and improvisations by Indian space scientists and technologists for putting together a spacecraft fitted with five instruments to Martian orbit at a fraction of the cost spent by other countries ? just 70 million US dollars as against 2.5 billion US dollars for NASA?s Mars Curiosity Mission. Amongst the other five spacefaring nations, only missions of three ? U.S., Russia and European Union were successful in reaching the planet?s orbit; China and Japan failed. MOM's twin objectives include showcasing India's capability to go beyond Earth's orbit and its affordability of commercial satellite-launching services. The second objective is to conduct meaningful experiments to look for signs of life and study the Martian environment. The launch follows India's successful unmanned mission to the Moon ? Chandrayaan-1 in October 2008. Chandrayaan had sent back evidence of presence of water for the first time.