India’s Mars Mission, Mangalyaan, successfully lifted off from the Sriharikota Spaceport in Andhra Pradesh on Tuesday, putting the country in a small club of nations that have sent rockets to the Red Planet. At Rs 450 crore, it is possibly the cheapest ever Mars mission in history after adjusting for inflation and dollar prices.

Be that as it may, it must be recorded as a major milestone in India’s space programme, even though the moment of truth will be when it will reach Mars and attempt to orbit it sometime in September 2014.

There has been no shortage of critics as far as the mission is concerned, mostly those who oppose the spending of Rs 450 crore on a seemingly aimless mission to another planet especially at a time when the country is going through a deep economic crisis. This is a strawman argument, at best. Humankind has always been exploring new worlds, and it is this that has brought the species to where we are at present.

If humans had not explored what was beyond the horizon, we would have never discovered new lands. If we had not built boats and explored new continents, where would civilisation be? In that sense, Mars is the next place to explore, and India has taken the first few steps towards exploring the planet in great depth.

At present, only the United States has a functioning Mars Rover that is sending invaluable data back to Earth.

Will the Mangalyaan, which is only an orbiter mission, eventually succeed? We do not know yet. To be sure, it is not even relevant at this point in time. The very fact that India was able to put a Mars Orbiter Mission together in less than two years itself is creditable.

It will also fuel interest in space sciences. It will enhance scientific temperament, just as it happened after India puts its first man in space – Sqaudron Leader Rakesh Sharma – in the 1980s, using a Soviet rocket.

For that alone, this mission should be treated as a success.