Chandrayaan-2 off to moon, liftoff perfect

Its target is a region near the moon's mysterious south pole, where no other missions have so far explored.

Sriharikota: With their trademark hugs and a pat on the backs of colleagues, Indian scientists celebrated the launch of Chandrayaan-2 with the week-long delay in its 50-day journey to the moon proving a blessing in disguise. The gigantic rocket, GSLV MkIII, propelled the country’s second lunar probe 6,000 km deeper into space than originally planned on Monday afternoon.

“The mission has been successfully accomplished,” announced a scientist at the Mission Control Centre, 16 minutes and 14 seconds after the 142-foot, 700-ton rocket climbed on a plume of orange flames, before vanishing into a thick bank of clouds over the Satish Dhawan Space Centre (SDSC), Sriharikota Range. A roaring thunder echoed across the sky after the rocket blasted off exactly at 2.43 pm.

An emotional Dr Kailasavadivoo Sivan, chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation, thanked his colleagues for the “beginning of a historic journey”.

Amid sustained applause from his colleagues, the team of scientists and engineers at the space agency, Dr Sivan said: “We fixed that technical snag now and Isro bounced back with flying colours!” He added that the efforts of rocketry experts paid off with the GSLV Mk-III placing Chandrayaan-2 in a better orbit than was earlier envisaged.

Dr Sivan and his colleagues, however, should wait for the big moment in early September when “Vikram”, the lander, along with the rover “Pragyan”, is expected to break off from the orbiter and gently land on the moon’s surface. In view of the delay in communicating across such far distances, the engineers and scientists at mission control centre will not be able to intervene. The lander will essentially be on autopilot, and a computer will be in charge of firing the various thrusters and steering the lander safely down.

If the rest of the mission goes as well, India will become the fourth nation — after the United States, Russia and China — to land on the moon, more than 384,000 km away. Its target is a region near the moon’s mysterious south pole, where no other missions have so far explored.

This will be a huge leap forward for India’s ambitious space programme, and scientists and defence experts everywhere are watching to see whether the country can pull it off. And, the timing of the launch could not be better. Sunday was the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 touchdown on the earth’s natural satellite, and the anniversary coverage has fanned lunar fever all around the world.

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