Historic Indian Mission to Moon’s South Pole Enters Lunar Orbit
(Bloomberg) -- An Indian rocket carrying a rover to the moon’s south pole entered the lunar orbit on Tuesday, in a key milestone for a mission that may make the nation the first to reach the unexplored part of earth’s satellite.
Indian Space Research Organisation, the nation’s equivalent of NASA, remotely fired a liquid engine on board the unmanned vehicle at around 9:02 a.m. local time, inserting it into the moon’s orbit, according to a statement. The aim of the mission named ‘Chandrayaan-2’ -- Sanskrit for ‘moon vehicle’ -- is to explore virgin territory on the lunar surface and look for signs of water and helium-3, a waste-free source of nuclear energy.
India will become the fourth nation after the former Soviet Union, the U.S. and China to make a soft landing on the moon. A successful mission will solidify its position as a pioneer of low-cost exploration in a global space race that’s seeing the U.S., China and Japan, as well as billionaires Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk and Richard Branson, competing to launch satellites, and send astronauts and paying-tourists into space.
The Indian mission, which cost about 8 billion rupees ($116 million), isn’t using a high-power rocket like the U.S. did five decades ago when man first walked on the moon. Instead, the vehicle has been programmed to orbit the Earth first, and gradually move in circles to enter the moon’s orbit, before the eventual moon landing scheduled for Sept. 7, 48 days after the voyage began July 22.
India has specialized in low-cost space launches since the early 1960s, when rocket sections were transported by bicycle and assembled by hand inside St. Mary Magdalene Church in Thumba, a fishing village near the tip of the Indian peninsula.
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