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India prepares to land rover on moon in global space race

The $141 million Chandrayaan-2 mission will analyze minerals, map the moon’s surface and search for water.

India is looking to take a giant leap in its space program and solidify its place among the world’s spacefaring nations with its second unmanned mission to the moon, this one aimed at landing a rover near the unexplored south pole.

The Indian Space Research Organization plans to launch a spacecraft using homegrown technology on Monday, and it is scheduled to touch down on the moon Sept. 6 or 7. The $141 million Chandrayaan-2 mission will analyze minerals, map the moon’s surface and search for water.

It will “boldly go where no country has ever gone before,” ISRO said in a statement.

With India poised to become the world’s fifth-largest economy, the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi is eager to show off the country’s prowess in security and technology. India also plans to send humans into space by 2022, becoming only the fourth nation to do so.

The country’s ambitions are playing out amid a resurgent space race.

The U.S. – which is marking the 50th anniversary this month of the Apollo 11 mission that made Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin the first humans on the moon – is working to send a manned spacecraft to the lunar south pole by 2024. In April, an unmanned Israeli craft crashed into the moon in a failed attempt at the first privately funded lunar landing.

Decades of space research have allowed India to develop satellite, communications and remote sensing technologies that are helping solve everyday problems at home, from forecasting fish migration to predicting storms and floods.

India’s first lunar mission, Chandrayaan-1, whose name is Sanskrit for “moon craft,” orbited the moon in 2008 and helped confirm the presence of water. In 2013-14, India put a satellite into orbit around Mars in the nation’s first interplanetary mission.

The spacecraft will have a lunar orbiter, lander and a rover. The lander will carry a camera, a seismometer, a thermal instrument and a NASA-supplied laser retroreflector that will help calculate the distance between the Earth and the moon.

The lunar south pole is especially interesting because a much larger portion of it is in shadow than the north pole, presenting a greater possibility of water. Water is an essential ingredient for life, and finding it is part of science’s broader goal of determining whether there is life elsewhere in our solar system.

This will be the first rover to look for water at the south pole.

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