India’s unmanned moon rocket Chandrayaan 1 was successfully launched today from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota, an island off the coast of Andhra Pradesh.
It will take about eight days to reach its destination, the Moon. It’s mission: detailed mapping of the lunar surface, and analysis of the distribution of mineral and chemical elements.
The chief of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), Madhavan Nair, called the launch a “historic moment” for India.
“Today what we have charted is a remarkable journey for an Indian spacecraft to go to the moon and try to unravel the mysteries of the Earth’s closest celestial body and its only natural satellite,” Mr Nair said.
The entire mission is expected to cost 3.8bn rupees (£45m), much less than Japanese and Chinese probes sent to the Moon last year. India is keen to keep up with its other space-faring neighbours, leading to an Asian space race in much the same way the US and USSR competed during the Cold War.
One objective of the mission is to look for water in the form of ice on or just under the surface of the Moon, particularly at the poles. The presence of water could make a permanent base on the Moon more likely, although such a mission would be far, far into the future.
America, the only nation to have sent men to the Moon, have announced plans for a return in 2019. The Russians also intend to land humans for the first time by 2025, and establish a base by 2027-2032. Whatever happens, it seems that the Moon will be much busier in the coming decades.