Today the entire nation of India rejoiced as the nation’s first lunar orbiter send an impact probe smashing into the moon‘s surface. As the probe was painted with the jaunty tricolor flag of India, millions of ecstatic citizens saw it as a near equivalent to Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin’s planting of the American flag on lunar soil almost 40 years ago. “Just as we had promised, we have given India the moon,” said G. Madhavan Nair, Chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation [The Hindu].
Lunar orbiter Chandrayaan-1 — Chandrayaan means “moon craft” in Sanskrit — was successfully launched from southern India on October 22 and is now orbiting the moon. Its two-year mission is to take high-resolution, three-dimensional images of the moon’s surface, especially the permanently shadowed polar regions. It also will search for evidence of water or ice and attempt to identify the chemical composition of certain lunar rocks [CNN]. The Indian government has said that the $79 million mission to map the lunar surface is just a prelude to the landing of a robotic lunar rover in 2012, and a manned mission to the moon by 2020.
The probe took about 25 minutes to descend from the orbiting Chandrayaan to the rocky lunar surface, and sent back pictures, videos, and other data during its descent. It crashed near the Shackleton crater at the moon’s south pole, and the probe was probably destroyed by today’s “hard landing,” the Indian [space] agency said. Data beamed back may help engineers plan controlled landings for future missions [Bloomberg].
India’s proud accomplishment came just a few months after China’s successful manned mission into Earth orbit, and the two achievements have been heralded as signs that space flight is no longer the exclusive domain of just a few nations. China’s government has discussed a manned mission to the moon and possibly a permanent outpost there, and European and Japanese space agencies have also discussed lunar trips. In addition to government-sponsored missions, various entrepreneurs are working on landers and rovers that they say could reach the moon within a decade.
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