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By Anjana Pasricha
New Delhi
22 October 2008

India has launched its first unmanned mission to the Moon. The mission is a major boost to the country's space program, as India joins Asian nations China and Japan in exploring the Moon. Anjana Pasricha has a report from New Delhi.  

In this photo provided by the Indian Space Research Organization, Chandrayaan-1 takes off at the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota, north of Chennai, India, 22 Oct 2008
In this photo provided by the Indian Space Research Organization, Chandrayaan-1 takes off at the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota, north of Chennai, India, 22 Oct 2008
The unmanned Chandayaan-1 spacecraft blasted off from a launch pad in Sriharikota in southern India, shortly after dawn, Wednesday, as the nation watched on television.

Scientists applauded and hugged each other. The head of the Indian Space Research Organization, G. Madhavan Nair, calls it a perfect launch and says everything is going according to plan.

"It's a historic moment, as far as India is concerned…..We have started our journey to the Moon and the first leg of the journey has gone perfectly well," said Nair. "It's a remarkable performance by the launch vehicle, every parameter was on the dot….Today what we have started is a remarkable journey for the Indian spacecraft to go to the Moon and try to unravel the mysteries of the Moon."  

It was clearly a moment of celebration for scientists in charge of the mission

"This is the beginning of a new era…..Words don't come, OK…..today it is a red-letter day…our baby is on the way to the moon," one scientist could be heard saying.

The Chandrayaan-I, which means Moon Vehicle, is being sent on a two-year mission to orbit the Moon and scan its chemical and mineral composition. A key objective will be to look for water. The spacecraft carries 11 instruments. Five are Indian, three are from the European Space Agency and two from the United States. A gadget from the spacecraft will land on the Moon to pick up some dust for analysis.

This is India's first space mission beyond the Earth's orbit. If successful, the $79 million project will be a major step forward for India's space program.

It is also being seen as an effort by India to catch up with Japan and China, which have already sent unmanned spacecraft to orbit the Moon. In particular, China has been forging ahead in space exploration, putting astronauts in space and carrying out its first spacewalk.

India, too, has drawn up ambitious programs. It plans to send an astronaut into space by 2014 and a manned mission to the Moon by 2020.

India started its first space program in 1963, developing its own satellites and launch vehicles, and has a foot-hold in the multibillion-dollar commercial space-launch business.

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