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India’s Chandrayaan-2 mission blasts off for the moon

India is trying to become the fourth country to complete a controlled soft landing on the moon.

The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) Chandrayaan-2 launches on July 22, 2019.
Arun Sankar/AFP/Getty Images
Jen Kirby is a senior foreign and national security reporter at Vox, where she covers global instability.

India’s Chandrayaan-2 mission is en route to the moon.

On Monday, at about 2:43 local time, the India Space Research Organization (ISRO) successfully launched its Chandrayaan-2 from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre (SDSC) in Sriharikota, off the southeastern coast of India.

Monday’s launch was the space agency’s second attempt to launch the mission; the first attempt was aborted last week because of a technical issue.

India wants to be the fourth country to complete a controlled landing on the surface of the moon, joining China, Russia, and the United States — which just celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission, the first time humans walked on the moon.

India’s Chandrayaan-2 (which means “moon craft” in Sanskrit) is an unmanned mission. It consists of an orbiter as well as a lander named Vikram (after the father of India’s space program) and a six-wheeled rover called Pragyan — the latter two will be the things that actually explore the moon’s surface.

The mission will make its way through space over the next month and touchdown on the south pole of the moon sometime in September. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said this mission is “unique” because it will “explore and perform studies on the south pole region of lunar terrain which is not explored and sampled by any past mission.”

In 2008, India’s Chandrayaan-1 blasted off, putting an orbiter around the moon and sending an impactor to crash into it, so the debris could be analyzed. That mission was the first to discover water molecules on the moon’s south pole, so there’s a lot of anticipation about what this return trip might uncover.

According to The Verge, India is aiming to keep the spacecraft functioning for about two weeks on the moon’s surface, but the orbiter will continue to circle for up to a year.

This is also a huge success story for India’s space program — and for the country itself. It’s a chance to show off its technical and scientific prowess, and prove it’s a serious competitor in space.

“Indian at heart, Indian in spirit! What would make every Indian overjoyed is the fact that #Chandrayaan2 is a fully indigenous mission,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi wrote in one of his many celebratory tweets.

India’s Chandrayaan-2 mission is a sign that space is getting more crowded

If this mission is successful, India will join a pretty exclusive group at a time when many countries are looking to space as the next defense frontier.

The US is creating a Space Force, a separate branch of the military that will defend US satellites and other assets in space and is aiming to send astronauts back to the moon — the south pole this time — by 2024.

China is making notable moves in space, too. In January, it sent a spacecraft to explore the far side of the moon, but many think China has grander, more militaristic, aims outside of planet Earth. That’s another reason the US is eager to establish a space force.

And, in other ways, India has tried to showcase its prowess in space. In March, India said it shot down one of its own satellites, which was seen as a warning shot to Pakistan and a signal to China that it can rival its own space ambitions.

India’s Chandrayaan-2 mission has the chance to make serious scientific discoveries. But it’s yet another sign the worldwide space race is intensifying.

Correction: This story initially attributed a tweet to Prime Minister Modi that belonged to the President of India Ram Nath Kovind. The post has been updated, and we regret the error.

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