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India Launches Its First Unmanned Spacecraft to the Far Side of the Moon

Stargazers in Australia are thought to have spotted the rocket as it blasted into the stratosphere.
July 23, 2019, 1:55am
India's satellite launch vehicle blasts off carrying Chandrayaan-2 from the Satish Dhawan space centre at Sriharikota
India's satellite launch vehicle blasts off carrying Chandrayaan-2 from the Satish Dhawan space centre at Sriharikota. Image via Reuters

This article originally appeared on VICE Asia

India’s hopes of landing on the Moon are well and truly in ascension.

A week after aborting their mission to the lunar south pole, the nation’s space agency successfully launched their unmanned spacecraft Chandrayaan-2 yesterday: the rocket lifting off as scheduled at 2:43 PM local time from the Satish Dhawan Space Center at Sriharikota, on India’s southeast coast. It is expected to take about 47 days to reach the Moon and arrive in September, according to The New York Times.


The mission control centre erupted into applause as Chandrayaan-2—the Sanskrit word for “moon craft”—lifted into the sky aboard the launch vehicle, a message blaring over the loudspeakers to announce that “the mission has been successfully accomplished!” The rocket is carrying an unmanned orbiter, lander, and rover, which is designed to explore the mostly uncharted south polar region of the Moon for water deposits over the course of 14 Earth days. Chandrayaan-1 orbited the Moon in 2008 and helped to confirm the presence of water there, the ABC reports.

If the mission is successful, it will also make India the fourth country to have landed a probe on the moon—following Russia, the United States, and China—at a relatively meagre cost of just $140 million. For comparison, the US spent about $25 billion on 15 Apollo missions in the 60s and early 70s—the equivalent of more than $100 billion in today’s prices.

At around the same time that Chandrayaan-2 was blasting off into the stratosphere, stargazers in Australia reported seeing strange, bright lights appearing in the night sky over the Northern Territory and Queensland. Jonti Horner, an astrophysics professor from the University of Southern Queensland, believes those stargazers may have witnessed India’s rocket launch from more than 7,000 kilometres away.

"My first thought was it's a meteor, but looking at the footage it can't be a meteor, it's not something in the Earth's atmosphere at all," Jonti told the ABC. "It looks like a rocket, something orbiting the Earth doing a prolonged engine burn. Interestingly, earlier today, India launched its second Moon mission [Chandrayaan-2] so it seems a really good bet that this is that engaging its engine to move towards the Moon.”


Jonti debunked any speculation that the lights were in fact a sign of alien life, saying "it's a sign of India going to the Moon."

"In some ways that's even cooler, you are seeing something that is exciting and it's worth remembering that we are now in an era that it's not just the US and Russia, we have China on the moon and India going, it really is a global endeavour," he said.

This was India’s second attempt to launch Chandrayaan-2, after a technical glitch forced them to postpone the mission less than an hour before take off last Monday. The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) took to Twitter to confirm that “a technical snag was observed in launch vehicle system at 1 hour before the launch. As a measure of abundant precaution, #Chandrayaan2 launch has been called off for today. Revised launch date will be announced later.”

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