There has been much fanfare over the launch of India’s first rocket to Mars – a mission which, if successful, will position the Asian nation as a major player in the global space race.

For days last week, local television news channels broadcast constant updates as the Indian Space Research Organisation readied to send “Mangalyaan” – the “Mars-craft” – to the red planet.

The orbiter’s mission is to reach Mars by September and map some of the planet’s surface and test for methane, a possible marker of life.

But this is no easy feat. More than half of the 40 Mars missions launched around the world have been unsuccessful.

Only the United States, Europe, and Russia have sent probes that have orbited or landed on the planet. A similar mission by India’s rival China in 2011 failed to leave earth’s orbit.