Agence France-Presse - 10/22/2008 4:29 AM GMT
India launches first moon mission
India successfully launched its first lunar mission Wednesday, marking a major boost for the country's space programme and a new step in the fast-developing Asian space race.
There were cheers in 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 6:22 am (0052 GMT), 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," India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said in a message.
The head of the Indian Space Research Organisation (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 the state of Andhra Pradesh and 80 kilometres (50 miles) 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 dollars.
"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," Nair said.
India is hoping the mission will boost its space programme into the same league as regional powerhouses Japan and China.
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.
The launch was carried live on most Indian television channels -- with one channel using the emotive theme music for "Star Wars" to accompany the count down.
Some critics, however, have questioned the sense in spending so much money on space when hundreds of millions of Indians still live in dire poverty.
India started its space programme in 1963, developing its own satellites and launch vehicles to reduce dependence on overseas agencies.
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