Sriharikota: India successfully launched its first lunar mission on Wednesday, marking a major boost for the country’s space programme and a new step in the fast-developing Asian space race.
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Cheers rang out at mission control as the unmanned lunar orbiting spacecraft Chandrayaan-1 was launched with an Indian-built rocket from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota on the southeastern coast. Officials said the lift-off, which took place in cloudy skies at 6:22am, was a “great success,” with the rocket placing the craft into a transfer orbit around the globe within 19 minutes.
“Our scientific community has once again done the country proud and the entire nation salutes them,” Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said in a message from Japan, where he is on an official visit.
The head of the Indian Space Research Organisation, or ISRO, Madhavan Nair, said it was a “historic moment” for the country. “It has been a remarkable performance by the launch vehicle,” he said of the lift-off from the national space centre in Andhra Pradesh, 80km north of Chennai.
ISRO is sending the Chandrayaan-1 on a two-year orbital mission to provide a detailed map of the mineral, chemical and topographical characteristics of the moon’s surface. It is expected to reach lunar orbit in 15 days.
The mission, which will also include the sending of a probe onto the lunar surface, will cost India $80 million (Rs394.4 crore today).
India is hoping the mission will boost its space programme into the same league as regional powerhouses Japan and China. Nair said ISRO was aiming at a manned space flight by 2015, with work on a two-person capsule already under way. As well as looking to carve out a larger slice of the lucrative commercial satellite launch market, India, Japan and China also see their space programmes as an important symbol of their international stature and economic development.
India started its space programme in 1963, developing its own satellites and launch vehicles to reduce dependence on overseas agencies. It first staked its case for a share of the commercial launch market by sending an Italian satellite into orbit in April last year.
Graphics by Ashish Asthana, Sandeep Bhatnagar / Mint