Saturday science subject: India goes to the moon

— 1:27 PM on November 1, 2008

India has sent its first unmanned spacecraft to the moon. As Scientific American reports, the Indian Space Research Organization's Chandrayaan 1 probe successfully took off on the morning of October 22. ISRO used its PSLV-C11 rocket to blast it into space.

Chandrayaan 1, which means "moon craft 1," will spend two years in lunar orbit, analyzing moon dust and looking for chemicals including helium 3, which is used in nuclear fusion, according to Reuters. It's carrying 11 payloads, including a moon impact probe that will demonstrate the technology needed to land the rover.

The mission also could boost India's competitiveness with China, which sent an unmanned rocket into lunar orbit last year and conducted its first spacewalk three weeks ago. Like India, China plans to land an unmanned rover on the moon in 2012 that will study soil and rock.

The mission reportedly cost $79 million, and according to Bloomberg, Chandrayaan 1 will reach its destination on November 8 or November 9. ISRO also says it will use the probe to prepare a 3D atlas of the lunar surface.

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