India is counting down to the launch of its first journey to Mars, a complex mission that it hopes will demonstrate and advance technologies for space travel. The mission will take flight today afternoon at 14:38. Mangalyaan, which means 'Mars craft' in Hindi, will ride a powerful rocket first into an elliptical orbit around Earth. There, it will perform a series of technical maneuvers and short burns to raise its orbit before it slingshots toward Mars. The live stream for the launch is up and you can watch it below:

The 1,350-kilogram (3,000-pound) orbiter must travel some 780 million kilometers (485 million miles) over 300 days to reach the red planet next September.  India is aiming to follow the Soviet Union, United States and Europe in having a successful visit to Mars. The launch will take place on the east-coast island of Shriharikota.

Mangalyaan will take flight today (Image: ISRO)

Mangalyaan will take flight today (Image: ISRO)

The biggest challenge will be precisely navigating the space craft to Mars,” said K. Radhakrishnan, chairman of the Indian Space and Research Organization. Radhakrishnan and his wife offered prayers Tuesday morning at a 200-year-old shrine to the Hindu god Vishnu, asking for success in the launch.

India defends its $1 billion space program against naysayers who argue the money would be better spent stamping out widespread poverty and hunger by noting its importance in providing high-tech jobs for scientists and engineers and practical applications for solving problems on Earth.

Space research over decades has allowed India to develop satellite, communications and remote sensing technologies that are helping to solve everyday problems, from forecasting where fish can be caught to predicting cataclysmic storms and floods.

With inputs from Associated Press

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