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India readies 1st moon mission in Asian space race

India readies 1st moon mission in Asian space race

India readies 1st moon mission in Asian space race

In this undated photo provided by the...

    NEW DELHI — India readied its first lunar mission on Wednesday, seeking to convert its new wealth into political and military clout and join an elite group of nations with the scientific know-how to reach space.
    In the last year Asian nations have taken the lead in exploring the moon: Japan and China both sent up spacecraft last year, and India’s Chandrayaan-1 will join them in orbit around the moon for a two-year mission designed to map the lunar surface. Chandrayaan means ‘‘Moon Craft’’ in ancient Sanskrit.
    The moon mission comes just months after it finalized a deal with the United States that recognizes India as a nuclear power.
    ‘‘It is a remarkable technological achievement for the country,’’ said S. Satish, a spokesman for the Indian Space Research Organization, which plans to launch the 3,080-pound satellite from the Sriharikota space center in southern India.
    To date only the U.S., Russia, the European Space Agency, Japan and China have sent missions to the moon. The United States is the only nation to have landed a man on the lunar surface, doing so for the first time in 1969.
    In 2003, China became the first Asian country to put its own astronauts into space. It followed that last month 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.
    The head of India’s space agency believes it can quickly catch China, its rival for Asian leadership.
    ‘‘Compared to China, we are better off in many areas,’’ Indian Space Research Organization chairman G. Madhavan Nair said in an interview with India’s Outlook magazine this week, citing India’s advanced communication satellites and launch abilities.
    India lags only because it has chosen not to focus on the more expensive manned space missions, he said. ‘‘But given the funds and necessary approvals we can easily catch up with our neighbor in this area.’’
    The mission is not all about rivalry and prestige. Analysts say India stands to reap valuable rewards from the technology it develops.
    ‘‘Each nation is doing its own thing to drive its research technology for the well-being of that nation,’’ said Charles Vick, a space analyst for the Washington think tank
    ‘‘Traditionally, for every dollar put into space research, we get that much more back,’’ he said.
    India is also collaborating closely with other countries on the mission.
    Of the 11 instruments carried by the satellite, five are Indian, three are from the European Space Agency, two from the U.S. and one from Bulgaria.
    Among the goals of the $80 million mission are mapping the moon, scanning for mineral deposits under the surface and testing systems for a future moon landing, according to the Indian space agency.
    NASA is sending up a Mini Synthetic Aperture Radar that can search for ice — an important resource for any human settlements — under the lunar poles.
    India plans to follow up this mission with landing a rover on the moon in 2011 and eventually a manned space program, though this has not been authorized yet.
    Vick, the space analyst, said an Indian landing was inevitable.
    ‘‘Where the unmanned goes, man will ultimately follow,’’ he said.
    And the Indian space agency was already dreaming of more.
    ‘‘Space is the frontier for mankind in the future. If we want to go beyond the moon, we have to go there first,’’ said Satish.

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