India took a giant leap in space exploration on Monday by sending a moon lander to the lunar south pole.
The successful launch of the $141m Chandrayaan-2 (moon chariot-2) mission comes a week after the countdown was aborted 56 minutes before the lift-off due to fuel leak in the rocket’s cryogenic engine.
It follows the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing and comes 11 years after the launch of Chandrayaan-1 which orbited the moon and searched for water.
If the latest mission’s lander, Vikram, touches down on the lunar surface in early September as planned, India will become the fourth nation to achieve that feat after the US, former Soviet Union and China.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi congratulated the scientists of the Indian Space and Research Organisation (Isro) for making every Indian proud with a perfect launch of the moon mission.
Modi is planning India’s first manned space mission by 2022 when the country will be celebrating 75 years of freedom.
President Ram Nath Kovind was among the dignitaries who witnessed the event.
Scientists in the control room shook hands and hugged each other as the low-cost rocket carrying a lander, rover and orbiter blasted off from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre at Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh at 2.43 pm.
Isro chief K Sivan called it a historic day for space, science and techology.
The US state department described the launch as an incredible achievement while the European Space Agency congratulated Indian scientists.
The next 45 days will be crucial for the mission when it will conduct a series of manoeuvres before sending the lander carrying the rover, Pragyaan, to the lunar south pole.
The six-wheeled, solar-powered rover will roam the moon’s surface for one lunar day (14 earth days) studying rocks and soil on the unexplored south pole.
The orbiter will circle the moon for about a year, take images of its surface, look for signs of water, and study the atmosphere.