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India a day away from ambitious Mars mission

Ansuya Harjani
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India is a day away from its first mission to Mars, which if successful, would make it the first Asian nation to reach the Red Planet.

The unmanned Mars Orbiter spacecraft is scheduled for lift-off on Tuesday afternoon from Satish Dhawan Space Centre SHAR located on Sriharikota Island off the coast of the southern state of Andhra Pradesh.

India's Mars satellite, which will collect information about the planet's atmosphere and surface, is expected to enter the Martian orbit on September 24, 2014.

"India's space program is ultimately intended as a capability demonstration. It is designed to put India 'out there' with other space-faring nations, and this is reflective of Indian ambitions to increase its international profile more generally," said Jan Zalewski, South Asia analyst at Control Risks.

"Beating China to it may be part of the equation, and in one way or another, this will contribute to perceptions of a space race in Asia," he added.

Both Japan and China have attempted to reach Mars, but were unsuccessful. In 1999, Japan's Nozomi Mars spacecraft failed in its effort to orbit the planet. While, in 2011, China's first Mars satellite Yinghuo-1 was destroyed when its carrier spacecraft - Russia's Phobos-Grunt - failed to leave Earth orbit.

So far, only the U.S., Russia and Europe have successfully sent a spacecraft to Mars.

(Watch this: Blast off! China launches longest space flight)

India's mission is budgeted at $73 million, significantly lower than American space agency National Aeronautics and Space Administration's (NASA) Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (Maven) mission at $671 million, which is set for launch later in the month.

Nevertheless, the South Asian nation's first interplanetary foray has raised some criticism as it comes at a time when the economy faces a deepening slowdown and widespread poverty.

"Criticisms that India is pushing ahead with it despite widespread poverty - and, currently, in the midst of slowing economic growth rates - are usually brushed aside by citing benefits of the program such as better-informed decision-making," Zalewski said.

(Read more: Millionaire spaceflier eyes 2018 Mars mission )

While this may be the case, Zalewski says the country is unlikely to accrue immediate, tangible benefits in terms of its international standing from such a mission.

-By CNBC's Ansuya Harjani; Follow her on Twitter: @Ansuya_H

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