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India begins lunar mission countdown

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 The satellite Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft

Picture: (AFP/File/Dibyangshu Sarkar)

The satellite Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft, India’s first moon mission craft is seen from behind glass at the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) center in Bangalore.

India began counting down today to the launch of an unmanned mission to the moon that will mark a giant catch-up step with Japan and China in the fast-developing Asian space race.

The lunar spacecraft Chandrayaan-1 is scheduled to blast off aboard an Indian-built rocket at 6:20am (0050 GMT) on Wednesday from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota in southern Tamil Nadu state.

"Everything is going perfectly as planned," the centre’s associate director M.Y.S. Prasad told AFP after the official countdown began in the early hours of Monday morning.

The launch is a major step for India as it seeks to keep pace in space with China and Japan.
All three countries have eyes on a share of the commercial satellite launch business and also see their space programmes as a symbol of international stature and economic development.

The Chandrayaan-1 is being sent on a two-year mission to provide an in-depth map of the lunar surface’s mineral, chemical and topographical characteristics.

The cost of the operation has been estimated at more than 80 million dollars.

India started its space programme in 1963, developing its own satellites and launch vehicles to reduce dependence on overseas agencies.

It carried out the first successful launch of a domestic satellite by a home-built rocket in 1980.