AD ASTRA, PER ASPERA: Ignoring Criticisms, India Shoots for Mars.

Defying critics at home and abroad, the Indian Space Research Organization is preparing to launch its first interplanetary exploration satellite to Mars. Called the Mangalyaan—”Mars Craft”—the satellite is expected to launch tomorrow afternoon and will reach the Martian atmosphere in September 2014.

India has been criticized for spending $72 million on the project instead of on “toilets and teachers,” as the FT‘s Victor Mallet put it. Indeed, the statistics are jarring. According to the World Bank a third of the world’s poorest people live in India. “I don’t understand the importance of India sending a space mission to Mars when half of its children are undernourished and half of all Indian families have no access to sanitation,” the well-known economist Jean Drèze told the FT last year when the Mangalyaan project was being organized. “It seems to be part of the Indian elite’s delusional quest for superpower status.” Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who championed the Mars mission, has called India’s high level of malnutrition among children a “national shame.”

Others, however, were proud and hopeful. “We want to tell this country that Mars has a relevance.” said K. Radhakrishnan, the chairman of the ISRO. “Science leads to understanding.” Comments on Twitter and India’s English-language newspapers suggested those with internet access were excited by India joining an elite international group of countries able to send satellites to Mars.

I hope it works.