Friday, November 14, 2008

Indian probe lands on moon, sends images

BANGALORE, India (AFP) — An Indian probe landed on the moon on Friday, the Indian Space Research Organisation announced, in a milestone for the country's 45-year-old space programme.

The probe touched down on the moon at 8:34pm (1504 GMT), 25 minutes after it was ejected from an unmanned spacecraft orbiting the moon, spokesman S. Satish said.

"During its descent from Chandrayaan-1 an onboard video camera transmitted lunar pictures to the ISRO command centre," Satish said in the southern Indian city of Bangalore where the national space agency is headquartered.

Scientists monitoring the probe cheered as ISRO chairman Madhavan Nair announced the success of the country's first lunar mission, which began on October 22 when a rocket transported Chandrayaan-1 into space.

The probe, carrying three instruments and with the Indian flag painted on its outer panes, settled in a crater in the moon's south pole.

Nair said the landing was perfect.

"We have now successfully put our national flag on the lunar surface," he told a news conference.

"The moon has been very favourable to us and this is a very productive and fruitful mission," he said, and added: "We have also emerged as a low-cost travel agency to space," referring to the mission's 80-million dollar tag.

Chandrayaan-1 is on a two-year orbital mission to provide a detailed map of the mineral, chemical and topographical characteristics of the moon's surface.

Buoyed by its success, ISRO plans to send a second unmanned spacecraft to the moon in 2012 and separately launch satellites to study Mars and Venus.

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. In January, it launched an Israeli spy satellite.

India is also hoping the mission will boost its space programme into the same league as regional powerhouses Japan and China.

As well as looking to grab a larger slice of the global commercial satellite launch market, India, Japan and China also see their space programmes as an important symbol of their international stature and economic development.

But India still has a long way to go to catch up with China which, together with the United States, Russia and the European Space Agency, is already well established in the commercial launch sector.

China's immediate goal is the establishment of a space lab, with Beijing's long-term ambition to develop a rival to the International Space Station, a project involving the US, Russia, Japan, Canada and some European countries.

Japan has also been boosting its space programme and has set a goal of sending an astronaut to the moon by 2020.

Japan's first lunar probe, Kaguya, was successfully launched in September last year, releasing two baby satellites to study lunar gravity and other projects.
Copyright © 2008 AFP. All rights reserved

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