India’s first lunar mission has ended not with a bang, but with dead silence. India‘s space agency lost contact with the lunar orbiter, Chandrayaan-I, over the weekend; when efforts to restore communication were futile Indian officials declared that the mission was over.
The launch of Chandrayaan-1 in October 2008 put India in an elite club of countries with moon missions. Other countries with similar satellites are the United States, Russia, the European Space Agency, Japan and China [AP]. Indian officials hope that either NASA or the Russian space agency will agree to track the orbiter, which is currently circling 125 miles from the moon’s surface. The satellite’s orbit will slowly decay over the next several years, and it is expected to crash into the moon in about 1,000 days.
Chandrayaan-I’s objective was to compile three-dimensional maps of the moon’s surface and to study the chemical composition of the moon, looking particularly for traces of water ice. Despite the termination of the mission, ISRO chief G. Madhavan Nair told reporters that the project was a great success and 95% of its objectives had been completed. “We could collect a large volume of data, including 70,000 images of the Moon,” he added [BBC News]. The orbiter also successfully sent down an impact probe last November.
The Chandrayaan-I mission was supposed to last two years, but the orbiter only made it through 312 days. It experienced a number of technical problems while in orbit, but Indian space officials say that the setbacks won’t delay the next projects in the country’s ambitious space program. In 2011, India aims to land an unmanned rover on the moon’s surface to prospect for chemicals…. India will launch a mission to Mars within four to six years, Nair told reporters today [Bloomberg].
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Image: Indian Space Research Organisation. A photo taken by Chandrayaan-I in July.