On Tuesday, India launched a rocket bearing a probe destined for Mars at a fraction of the cost of similar NASA missions. However, India will need to rely on the United States to monitor its satellite as it nears Mars sometime next September. The probe will test for evidence of methane in the Martian atmosphere, a chemical which the rover Curiosity found only in trace amounts.
The Indian space program has had a few successes, notably finding evidence of water on the Moon, but in a country with grinding poverty and economic stagnation, even budget space missions are a hard sell. To complicate matters, probes to Mars have a high failure rate.
But India feels the need to try to compete for the global satellite market, if only to keep its technology on par with that of China, its neighbor and rival. While its space program is mainly for peaceful purposes, China's development of anti-missile systems is serving as a wake-up call for the Indian government. And if our own space race with the Russians is any indication, if India succeeds where China failed, they'll be able to trade on those bragging rights for some time to come.