Scripting a new chapter in its space programme, India today launched its maiden unmanned mission to moon 'Chandrayaan-I', a research project that propels the country into an exclusive global club of six moon faring nations.
"It is a historic moment as far as India is concerned. We have started our journey to the moon and the first leg of the journey has gone perfectly well," an ecstatic ISRO Chairman G Madhavan Nair said soon after the indigenously built rocket PSLV C-11 blasted off from the spaceport here in cloudy but rainless weather.
The spacecraft was put into orbit exactly 18.2 minutes after the textbook launch at 6.22 a.M. From the second launch pad of Satish Dhawan Space Centre in this island in the Bay of Bengal, about 100 km north of Chennai.
With the successful launch, India became the sixth country after the US, Russia, European Space Agency, China and Japan to launch a moon odyssey.
At Rs 386 crore, the Indian mission is considered to be the cheapest in the world which will help generate the first-ever comprehensive maps of the earth's only natural satellite.
The 44.4 metre tall four-stage PSLV rocket injected the spacecraft in the earth orbit from where it would be guided about 3,87,000 km away from the earth to the circular lunar orbit, 100 kms from the moon's surface, by November eight.
The spacecraft is carrying 11 instruments, including six international experiments, which will help prepare the first comprehensive map of the moon.
President Pratibha Patil, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha L K Advani congratulated the space scientists on the successful launch.
The focus now shifts to ISRO's telemetry, tracking and command network (ISTRAC) at Peenya in Bangalore, which will be the country's nerve centre for tracking and controlling Chandrayaan-1 over the next two years of its life span.
After circling the earth in its highly elliptical Transfer Orbit for a while, Chandrayaan-1 would be taken into more elliptical orbits by repeated firing of the spacecraft's Liquid Apogee Motor (LAM) at opportune moments.
Subsequently, the LAM would be again fired to take the spacecraft to the vicinity of the moon by following a Lunar Transfer Trajecctory (LTT) path, whose apogee lies at 3,87,000 km.
Later, when Chandrayaan-1 reaches the vicinity of the moon, its LAM would be fired again to slow down the spacecraft sufficiently to enable the gravity of the moon to capture it into an elliptical orbit.
After some more procedures, Chandrayaan-1's orbit would be finally lowered to its intended 100 km height from the lunar surface, which was expected to take place around November eight.
Later, the Moon Impact Probe, carrying the Indian tricolour, would be ejected from the spacecraft following which the cameras and other payloads would be turned on and thoroughly tested, marking the operational phase of the mission.
Chandrayaan-I will help prepare detailed maps of the moon, its topography, mineral contents and look for water in the polar regions.
The maps could be of immense help when ISRO and other space agencies plan to land spacecraft on the lunar surface or plan to use the moon as a base for future interplanetary missions.
ISRO scientists spent many a sleepless nights to achieve perhaps one of the most difficult parts of the journey to the moon and faced some anxious moments as rains hammered the spaceport and surrounding areas for nearly five days.
"We lost 10 hours in the countdown yesterday due to inclement weather and almost lost the hope of making the launch. But working against all odds ISRO team has won the game," Nair said.
"The 360-tonne PSLV-C11 has precisely achieved the objective of placing the satellite in the orbit around the earth with its nearest point being 250 km (perigee) and the farthest around 23,000 km (apogee)," he said.
Nair expressed the hope that India would be able to send the first man-mission to moon from Indian soil before 2015 and that mars was the next natural destination for the ISRO.
Chandrayaan-1 was built at ISRO's Satellite Centre, Bangalore, with contribution from various wings of the space agency, including the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre in Thiruvananthapuram.
The ground facilities of Chandrayaan-I would perform the highly important task of receiving the microwave containing the health information of the spacecraft as well as the valuable scientific information, which the spacecraft sends.
It also transmits the radio commands to be sent to the spacecraft during all the phases of its mission.