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India to launch lunar mission this month

INDIA: India will launch its first lunar mission on October 22 from southern India, a top official from the country’s space agency said Monday.

The announcement came a week after Asian rival China said it was setting its sights on a manned trip to the moon after completing a historic mission that included the country’s first space walk.

“We have set October 22 as the tentative date for the launch of lunar spacecraft Chandrayaan-1, though the launch window will be kept open till October 26,” Indian Space Research Organisation director S. Satish told AFP.

“Weather permitting, the launch will take place around 6:30 am (0100 GMT).” The launch of the unmanned robotic mission was originally planned for April but was postponed because of technical reasons, local news reports said earlier this year.

India will join Japan and China in moon exploration with the planned mission. The spacecraft will conduct a lunar orbit at a distance of 385,000 kilometres (240,000 miles) from Earth.

Last year, China’s Chang’e I lunar satellite took off on October 24 after Japan launched its Kaguya lunar orbiter on September 14. Last month, millions in China watched as astronaut Zhai Zhigang, 41, embarked on a 15-minute space walk, during which he waved a Chinese flag in the weightlessness of low orbit some 340 kilometres (210 miles) above the Earth.

India’s first robotic mission, budgeted at 90 million dollars, will be followed by another in 2012, ISRO has said. A timetable for a manned mission will be announced this year.

Spacefaring nations are accelerating their quest to reach the moon more than three decades after the last human landing, and use it as a springboard to explore planets beyond. The US Apollo programme resulted in the only manned spaceflights to the moon, with six landings from 1969 to 1972.

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