NEW DELHI The first lunar probe from India landed successfully on the moon Friday as part of a two-year mission aimed at laying the groundwork for further Indian space expeditions, the Indian Space Research Organization said.
ISRO chairman G. Madhavan Nair said cameras on board have been transmitting images of the moon back to Indian space control, the Press Trust of India news agency reported.
Chief among the lunar mission's goals is mapping not only the surface of the moon, but what lies beneath. If successful, India will join what is shaping up to be a 21st century space race with Chinese and Japanese crafts already in orbit around the moon.
The unmanned moon mission was launched from the Sriharikota space center in southern India on Oct. 22. The box-shaped lunar probe carried a video imaging system, a radar altimeter and a mass spectrometer.
The video imaging system was intended to take the pictures of the moon's surface, the radar altimeter was to measure the rate of descent of the probe to the lunar surface and the mass spectrometer was for studying the extremely thin lunar atmosphere.
The Moon Impact Probe was one of the 11 payloads of Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft, a space agency statement said.
To date only the U.S., Russia, the European Space Agency, Japan and China and now India have sent missions to the moon.
As India's economy has boomed in recent years, it has sought to convert its newfound wealth built on the nation's high-tech sector into political and military clout. The moon mission comes just months after India finalized a deal with the United States that recognizes India as a nuclear power, and leaders hop the mission will further enhance its prestige.
While the moon race in the 1960s was a two-country sprint between the United States and the U.S.S.R, more countries are involved this time. China, in particular, has been forging ahead in space.
Beijing sent shock waves through the region in 2003, when it became the first Asian country to put its own astronauts into space. It followed that in September with its first spacewalk.
More ominously, last year China also blasted an old satellite into oblivion with a land-based anti-satellite missile, the first such test ever conducted by any nation, including the United States and Russia.
India plans to follow this mission with landing a rover on the moon in 2011 and, eventually, a manned space program, though this has not been authorized yet.