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The ISRO plans to take the first step towards a possible manned mission to the moon

Indian space officials announced the country will launch its first unmanned mission to the moon on October 22 from southern India.  The India Space Research Organization (ISRO) will use an Indian-built rocket to help carry the Chandrayaan-1 into orbit and towards the moon.

If weather conditions are poor, ISRO is prepared to delay the launch until October 26 or further.

India first hoped to launch Chandrayaan-1 in April, but mechanical problems with the $83 million mission forced the country to push back possible launch dates.  The mission was first publicly announced in 2003, and was described by many as "overambitious" and a "waste of resources."

After making the 240,000-mile journey in eight days, the spacecraft is expected to document the moon's surface and chemical characteristics while creating a three-dimensional topographic map.  Chandrayaan-1 will orbit around 60 miles above the moon's surface.

In addition to using high-resolution remote sensing tools to create the map, it will send a small impact probe into the moon's surface to test surface properties.

The ISRO and China are in an unofficial Asian version of the Cold War space race, with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) also involved, space observers have said in the past.

Last year, Japan launched the Kaguya lunar orbiter on September 14, then China launched the Chang'e I lunar satellite on October 24.

Along with the United States, Russia, China and Japan, the ISRO also wants to launch a manned mission to the moon, but has a lot of work to be done before being able to do so.  ISRO plans to launch another moon mission in 2012, and will discuss manned mission details before the end of 2008.





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