October 7, 2008

India Preparing For First Moon Mission

India's space program official M. Annadurai told reporters on Tuesday that the only obstacle between the country and its first unmanned mission to the moon would be the weather.

"If at all there is any delay, it will be because of the weather, otherwise I don't foresee any technical difficulties," he said.

India hopes the unmanned mission will allow them to create a three-dimensional atlas of the moon through high-resolution remote sensing and map the surface's chemical and mineral composition.

Although originally scheduled to take place in April, the launch was put off until October. The launch is now expected to take place between Oct 20 and Oct 28.

At an estimated cost of 3.86 billion rupees ($80.8 million), the project has received support from six countries, including the U.S.

India's space program was launched as a scientific research effort, but has now begun to make money from commercial launches.

At least 16 Indian satellites currently orbit the earth, supporting telecommunications, TV broadcasting, earth observation, weather forecasting, remote education and healthcare.

India's future plans for space exploration include sending an astronaut into space by 2014 as well as a manned mission to the moon by 2020. As part of preparations for that, it launched four satellites on a single rocket for the first time in January 2007, including one that was brought back to earth.

India stands alone as the only country with seven earth-observation satellites. However, its program is still behind China, which just completed its first spacewalk last month.

Image Courtesy NASA