Taking a giant leap in its space program, India is looking to solidify its place among the world’s space-exploring countries with its second unmanned mission to the Moon, aiming to land a rover near the unexplored lunar south pole.
The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) plans to a launch a spacecraft using domestic technology on Monday, scheduling to touch down on the Moon Sept. 6 or 7. The $141 million Chandrayaan-2 mission will analyze minerals, map the unexplored south pole’s surface and search for water.
It will “boldly go where no country has ever gone before,” said the ISRO in a statement.
With India growing as the world’s fifth-largest economy, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi is determined to show his country’s security and technological prowess on the global stage.
India successfully test-fired an anti-satellite weapon in March, which Modi said demonstrated the country’s capability as a space power alongside the United States, Russia and China. It also plans to send humans into space by 2022, becoming only the fourth nation to do so.
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However, India is not alone in its ambitions as it competes with other nations in the international space race.
The U.S. – which celebrates 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 planetoid’s south pole by 2024. Israel, additionally, attempted to land an unmanned spacecraft on the moon back in April but failed when the first privately funded lunar landing crashed.
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 2013-2014, India also sent a satellite into Mars’ orbit in the nation’s first interplanetary mission. The country’s decades-long space research has allowed it to develop satellite, communications and remote sensing technologies that solve everyday problems at home, such as forecasting fish migration and predicting weather conditions like storms and floods.
Critics have questioned the expense of the mission in the 1.3-billion-person country plagued by widespread poverty and high child mortality rates. Author and economic commentator Gurcharan Das, however, said the cost of the second lunar mission is small compared with India’s overall budget and that the moonshot could have a multiplier effect on the economy.
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Das urged India to get the country’s private sector more involved in the mission’s research and development, which he said could yield “huge benefits” beyond the realm of space exploration.
Chandrayaan-2 will have a lunar orbiter, lander and a rover. The lander will carry a camera, seismometer, a thermal instrument and a NASA-supplied laser retroreflector to help calculate the distance between the Earth and the moon.
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Many are interested in the lunar south pole because of its largely-shadowed portion, presenting a greater possibility of water. Water is an essential ingredient for life, and finding it is part of science’s greater goal of determining whether there is life elsewhere in our solar system; India’s rover will be the first to look for water at the south pole.
“These days, it has become the place to go,” said space expert Nandivada Rathnasree.
Fox News’ Morgan Cheung and the Associated Press contributed to this report.