AUSKAR SURBAKTI, PRESENTER: India will shortly launch its first expedition to Mars.
Its mission: to assess whether or not there is - or ever has been - life on the red planet.
Many in the Indian scientific community are proud of the nation's space program, but there's concern the mission to Mars has been poorly planned.
Some critics say it's solely aimed at furthering India's position in the space race with China at a time when the money could be better spent on helping India's poor.
India correspondent Stephanie March reports.
VINOD KOTIYA, ASPIRING ASTRONAUT: All my childhood I wanted to be an astronaut. It is not easy in my country to become an astronaut.
STEPHANIE MARCH, REPORTER: Only two Indians have ever been in space, a fact that deeply frustrates space enthusiast Vinod Kotiya.
VINOD KOTIYA: We are destined for exploration, the human kind. We are to explore in the deeper space. Some day we can't survive on the earth for a long time; some day we are to go to other planets. So why not we start today?
STEPHANIE MARCH: He's one of 200,000 Indians to have applied to be part of the Mars One project. A not for profit organisation based in Europe that plans to establish a permanent human settlement on Mars in 2023. Successful applicants win a one way ticket to the Red Planet.
VINOD KOTIYA: (on Mars One application video) I have a deep passion to explore the university.
(On Asia Pacific Focus) My bones will decay, my muscles will decay. So I will not be able to live again on earth when I come back. So it's better to live there and die there instead of coming back and die terribly on earth.
STEPHANIE MARCH: He isn't the only Indian keen to get to Mars. The nation's government and space agency, ISRO (Indian Space Research Organisation), want to get there too. And they're a little more advanced in their planning. ISRO is about to embark on its first journey into the planet.
D. RAGHUNANDAN, DELHI SCIENCE FORUM: This probe is going to look at the Martian atmosphere, and particularly to look at the methane composition in the atmosphere.
STEPHANIE MARCH: The presence of methane means the possibility of life on Mars. If all goes well, the craft will take nine months from its launch date to reach its destination.
VOICEOVER: This is a pathbreaking mission that opens up new (inaudible) from the space exploration.
STEPHANIE MARCH: India is proud of its space program. It was the first country to confirm the presence of liquid water on the moon during its 2008 lunar voyage. But this latest mission has led some in the science community to question the space program's direction and the motivation behind it.
GROUND CONTROL: Ignition sequence normal, and lift-off normal.
D. RAGHUNANDAN: The rocket that is going to take this satellite to Mars is actually not designed for deep space exploration or inter planetary explanation. It's a small rocket.
STEPHANIE MARCH: There won't be another launch window for this mission until 2016 but some fear India's pushing ahead with a less than ideal rocket for another reason.
D. RAGHUNANDAN: There has been commentary in the papers, in the press, about the space race between India and China. That must have been at the back of the mind somewhere, but, frankly speaking, whether there was a space race or not, India would have wanted to get a mission to Mars at some point of time.
STEPHANIE MARCH: The Mars mission will cost a little less than $US100 million. Cheap by international space programs standards, but critics say the money should be spent on India's problems back on earth.
PRAFUL BIDWAI, SOCIAL SCIENTIST: This is a, in my view, perversity because you are really spending money on the moon mission and the Mars mission ,which is completely disproportionate in quantity to what we spend on absolutely basic needs for the people, the population.
STEPHANIE MARCH: A recent report from India's Rural Development Ministry found that only 18 per cent of the country's rural population have access to clean drinking water, electricity and toilets.
PRAFUL BIDWAI: I would say build toilets, improve the drinking water supply system in the whole country, give people better healthcare. I would put that $100 million into a universal vaccination program - beef that up.
GROUND CONTROL: Again we have achieved a perfect launch here at ISRO.
STEPHANIE MARCH: Supporters of the space program say it's achieved a great deal for the average person in India.
D. RAGHUNANDAN: India has used its space program for explorations of its natural resources, for remote sensing, for mapping of mineral resources, of forest area land resources, which is again yielded enormous developmental dividends.
PRAFUL BIDWAI: The sort of scientific output and benefits, I mean, they are very marginal, if not trivial actually. Why is India getting into this business? Just to claim prestige?
STEPHANIE MARCH: The benefits of space exploration may be marginal now but some believe they may one day provide the solution to many more of India's problems.
VINOD KOTIYA: I hope that in future government should colonise the moon and Mars, we ought to plan for that. So that will be much better than just having a simple mission like going there and coming back. We should now think for colonisation, we should now think for utilising the resources of other planets, moon, asteroids.