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With the successful launch just hours ago of its Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM), India has passed the first test in its bid to orbit the Red Planet. Next up is a nail-biting ride to Mars, which, as history shows, is fraught with danger.

Not only would a successful mission be a towering achievement, it will also provide vital technological know-how that should aid India's next planned mission: a robotic voyage to the moon, which may be even more exciting, scientifically speaking, than MOM.

The orbiter launched at 14:38 local time from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota, near Chennai. The plan is for the craft to remain in Earth orbit until 30 November, when it will be sent on its way to Mars.

History points to a difficult journey ahead. Despite the success of NASA's Mars Curiosity rover, which landed on the Red Planet in August 2012, Mars is a notoriously tough target – even for spacecraft that are designed to orbit, not land.

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