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SRIHARIKOTA: India launched a rocket into space on Monday in an attempt to safely land a rover on the moon, its most ambitious mission yet in the effort to establish itself as a low-cost space power.

If successful, the $146 million mission will allow Indian scientists to carry out studies on the presence of water at the moon’s south pole, unexplored by any other nation before.

“This mission will offer new knowledge about the Moon,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted, praising the scientists responsible for what he called a fully indigenous mission.

China, Russia and the United States are the only other nations to have sent missions to the moon.

A live broadcast showed images of the rocket, carrying the unmanned Chandrayaan-2 spacecraft, blasting off from a space centre in southern India as thousands of onlookers cheered the launch, which was delayed for a week by a technical snag.

The boosters separated safely as the craft began its nearly 50-day journey, after which the lander will attempt a controlled landing to deploy a rover at the moon’s south pole.

The spacecraft has successfully entered the earth’s orbit, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) said.

The next month and a half will see the spacecraft perform crucial manoeuvres to ensure a smooth landing, ISRO Chairman K. Sivan said, as the agency’s officials congratulated each other with handshakes and bear hugs after the launch.

“We are going to experience 15 minutes of terror, to ensure that the landing is done safely near the south pole,” he told reporters, describing the final moments before the craft is expected to touch down on the moon, 47 days from now.

The space agency has previously said the descent on the moon could be complex, with potential problems from variations in lunar gravity, terrain and dust having to be taken into account.

Published in Dawn, July 23rd, 2019