An unmanned Indian probe landed on the moon Friday and started sending images, marking another milestone for the country's 45-year-old space program.
The Indian Space Research Organization announced Friday that the Moon Impact Probe, or MIP, successfully landed on a crater in the moon's south pole.
The probe, with the Indian flag painted on its four outer panes, landed at 8:34 p.m. Bangalore time, or 10:04 a.m. ET, after it was ejected by Chandrayaan-1, the unmanned spacecraft that has been orbiting the moon at an altitude of about 100 kilometres since Wednesday.
The 35-kilogram probe carries three scientific instruments: a radar altimeter to keep track of the probe's altitude as it made its descent, a video imaging system to take pictures once on the surface and a mass spectrometer to identify the particles the lander kicks up when it lands.
The primary objective of the MIP is to demonstrate the technologies required for landing a probe at a desired location on the moon, according to the ISRO.
First mission beyond Earth's orbit
Chandrayaan-1, launched Oct. 22, is India's first mission beyond Earth's orbit. The European Space Agency, Bulgaria and the U.S. have joined the ISRO in the project.
The spacecraft, which cost 3.86 billion rupees ($94.4 million), will orbit the moon on a two-year mission.
India is the third Asian country to send an unmanned mission into lunar orbit, as Japan and China both successfully launched lunar probes in 2007. The United States, Europe and the former Soviet Union have also sent probes that have orbited or landed on the moon, while the U.S. is the only nation to successfully land a manned spacecraft on the moon.
India has successfully launched 16 satellites, either from their own launch pads or piggybacked on U.S., Soviet or European shuttles or rockets, but its homegrown space exploration program is just beginning.
Wednesday's launch was the first step of the country's long-term ambitions to conduct a manned moon mission by 2020.
India also has announced plans for the launch of Chandrayaan-2 — which is expected to land a rover on the moon by 2012 — and also a manned space mission by 2015 using Indian systems and technology.