India launches its first moon mission in Asian space race
NEW DELHI - India launched its first lunar mission today, seeking to convert its new wealth into political and military clout and join an elite group of nations with the scientific know-how to reach space.
In the last year Asian nations have taken the lead in exploring the moon: Japan and China both sent up spacecraft last year, and India's Chandrayaan-1 will join them in orbit around the moon for a two-year mission designed to map the lunar surface. Chandrayaan means "Moon Craft" in ancient Sanskrit.
Scientists, clapping and cheering, tracked the ascent on computer screens.
"This is a historic moment for India," Indian Space Research Organization chairman G. Madhavan Nair said.
"We have started our journey to the moon and the first leg has gone perfectly well," he said, adding that they hoped to "unravel the mystery of the moon."
The moon mission comes just months after it finalized a deal with the United States that recognizes India as a nuclear power.
"It is a remarkable technological achievement for the country," said S. Satish, a spokesman for the Indian Space Research Organization, which launched the 3,080-pound satellite from the Sriharikota space center in southern India.
To date only the United States, Russia, the European Space Agency, Japan, and China have sent missions to the moon. The United States is the only nation to have landed a man on the lunar surface, doing so for the first time in 1969.
In 2003, China became the first Asian country to put its own astronauts into space. It followed that last month with its first spacewalk.
Last year China also blasted an old satellite into oblivion with a land-based antisatellite missile, the first such test ever conducted by any nation.
The head of India's space agency says it can quickly catch China, its rival for Asian leadership.
"Compared to China, we are better off in many areas," Nair said in an interview with India's Outlook magazine this week, citing India's advanced communication satellites and launch abilities.