India Gets Ready to Launch First Lunar Spacecraft

India is to launch its first unmanned mission to the Moon this month as it struggles to catch up with China in a 21st-century Asian version of the space race between the United States and Soviet Union.

The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) announced Tuesday that it would fire a locally made rocket bearing the lunar spacecraft Chandrayaan-1 from a launch pad in southeastern India on Oct. 22, weather permitting.

The launch could be delayed until Oct. 26 if conditions are not right over the Satish Dhawan Space Centre, 60 miles from the city of Madras.

It was planned originally for April, but was postponed repeatedly because of technical problems with the $82 million project, which involves several foreign countries, including the United States.

The 1.5-ton spacecraft will take approximately eight days to travel about 240,000 miles before reaching its final orbit 60 miles above the surface of the Moon, ISRO officials say.

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