India has successfully launched its first unmanned mission to the moon. Chandrayaan-1, which means ‘Moon Craft’ in ancient Sanskrit language, blasted off from the Sriharikota space centre in southern India early on Wednesday. The two-year mission will explore the lunar surface in order to provide a detailed map of its mineral, chemical and topographical characteristics.
Indian Space Research Organization Chairman G. Madhavan Nair celebrates the successful launch of the maiden lunar mission
The 44 metre tall Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle rocket carrying the Chandrayaan-1 space craft has embarked on its journey to the moon. Despite cloudy skies, the lift off was perfect in the early morning hours, said the Indian Space Research Organisation chief G. Madavan Nair. “It's a historic moment as far as India is concerned. We have started our journey to the moon. And the first leg of the journey has gone perfectly well."
Hailing the launch, Indian PM Manmohan Singh, who is currently visiting Japan, congratulated Nair and other scientists. "When completed, the mission will put India in the very small group of six countries which have thus far sent space missions to the moon. Our scientific community has once again done the country proud and the entire nation salutes them."
Mapping the lunar surface
The 60 million euro project carries 11 technical equipments. Five of them are developed by the Indian space agency and the rest six are by the US’s NASA and the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences and the European space agency, including two equipments made in Germany. Hence, the excitement could also be noticed in Europe. The Paris-based European Space Agency applauded the launch and said it was looking forward to the results the mission produced.
The Chandrayaan-1 is expected to reach lunar orbit in the second week of November. The probe will take the image of the moon at 5 metre resolution, including three-dimensional pictures, explains Manik Bali, a researcher in Germany’s Max Plank Institute.
“It will be an unprecedented move as no space craft has done this ever before. Besides this, the spacecraft incorporates the Moon Impact Probe or MIP, an instrument which will be ejected when it reaches 100 km orbit around the moon, and will then scan the surface.”
Exploring elements and minerals
After the MIP is placed on the lunar surface, the cameras and other payloads on board will be turned on and start their operations. The MIP will also unfurl India’s flag, marking yet another country’s claim to the moon.
The highly ambitious project also aims to explore evidence of water and other elements and minerals on the moon. It will also look for Helium 3, an isotope, believed to be in abundance on the lunar surface and considered a potential source of energy.
If the mission is successful, India will become the third Asian country to venture to the moon. China and Japan launched their moon missions last year. Indian scientists say Chandrayan -1 will be followed by another unmanned mission in 2010, in co-operation with the Russian space agency.
The Indian space agency also plans to send two astronauts for a week long space flight by 2015 and a manned mission to the moon by 2020.