The India Space Research Organization (ISRO) announced its plans to put a remotely controlled telescope on the surface of the moon to improve its scientific observation capacity.
Speaking to students and reporters at the Indian Institute of Technology in Madras this weekend, ISRO Chairman A. S. Kiran Kumar told the New Indian Express the mission to the moon will take place by the end of 2017.
"As a follow-on mission to Astrosat, discussions are in progress with an international body regarding setting up of a telescope on moon."India's mission to the moon follows on the heels of ISRO's successful launch of its first fully dedicated space observatory with two telescopes, the Astrostat, into orbit. The country boosted the observatory into space last year along with satellites from six foreign countries.The Astrostat, a dedicated multiwavelength observatory, helps Indian scientists study black holes and neutron stars.
The lunar telescope would operate much like a remote astronomical observatory the country operates near Leh in Ladakh, India, that is operated by personnel in Bengaluru. The lunar telescope, however, would also be operated by researchers in Bengaluru, but monitored by personnel in West Virginia.
It's easy to dismiss India as a major player in the space race, but its achievements have placed the country in a premier league among spacefaring nations.
Only five other countries possess the ability to launch two-ton satellites into orbit. India has launched 34 space missions in 10 years, deploying 121 satellites, 75 of them foreign, making it a competitive player in the commercial space industry.
India is also only one of three nations to have successfully reached the red planet. The country's Mars orbiter, Mangalyaan, has been circling the planet since September, 2014, collecting data and taking measurements.
American Mars orbiters have better cameras, but the Indian spacecraft can capture the entire planet in one frame, Planetary Society editor Emily Lakdawalla wrote in a blog post.
"It doesn't take crisp high-resolution views of Mars; instead, MCC's value lies in its ability to capture beautifully colored, regional views of the planet that can serve as context images for other missions' more detailed but much more narrowly focused pictures."ISRO is also planning to launch a lunar orbiter and put a rover on the surface of the moon with its Chandrayan 2 mission; before launch it will be using its Mars orbiter to practice maneuvering the spacecraft during an eclipse.
The ISRO lunar mission will launch aboard a GSLV Mark III before the end of the year; the new version of the rocket will be able to carry four-ton satellites into orbit. The Indian space agency is also planning to launch a solar probe, Aditya, to study the sun in 2018.
The U.S. has abandoned plans to return to the moon's surface for a manned Mars mission while countries like India and China are laying plans to make lunar trips a staple of their space programs.
China already has its own space station and plans for a robotic mission to the moon's poles, an Apollo-style landing and a lunar base, Heritage Foundation research fellow Dean Chang told GB Times.
"The reality is, the day the Chinese are able to [land humans on the moon] is the day that American uniqueness will be openly challenged... and Chinese prestige will be placed on the same level as that of the United States."As other nations push further out into the depths of space and increase funding for science and math education, the U.S. continues to struggle to fund NASA. The American space agency is searching for a commercial partner to take over its responsibilities on the International Space Station so it can divert federal funds to a manned Mars mission.
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[Featured Image by Indian Space Research Organization/AP]