India sets sights on Moon, unveils spacecraft for historic mission

India plans to join the exclusive group of countries that have successfully landed on the Moon following the launch of its Chandrayaan-2 spacecraft next month.

Speaking in Bangalore on Wednesday, Indian Space Research Organization Chairman K. Sivan said that the spacecraft will launch from Sriharikota, an island off India's southeastern coast, on July 15.

Chandrayaan-2 will carry a lunar lander dubbed "Vikram," or "valor," which is expected to make a soft landing on the Moon’s surface on Sept. 6. The lander will transport a robotic rover that will explore the lunar surface.

So far, only the United States, Russia and China have successfully landed on the Moon.

Indian space hardware has reached the Moon before, although the country has yet to achieve a “soft landing” on the lunar surface.

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India's first lunar mission, Chandrayaan-1, orbited the Moon in 2008 but did not land there. It did, however, launch an impact probe that was intentionally crashed into the Moon.

Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) scientists work on the orbiter vehicle of Chandrayaan-2, India's first Moon lander and rover mission, in Bangalore.

Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) scientists work on the orbiter vehicle of Chandrayaan-2, India's first Moon lander and rover mission, in Bangalore. (MANJUNATH KIRAN/AFP/Getty Images)

Chandrayaan-1 operated for 312 days.

Officials gave a glimpse of the Chandrayaan-2 spacecraft in Bangalore on Wednesday. India is also planning its first human space flight by 2022.

The Moon looms large for a number of countries’ space programs. China, for example, recently became the first country to successfully land a probe on the far side of the Moon when the Chang’e 4 lander reached the lunar surface on Jan. 2.

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Scientists work on the Chandrayaan-2 orbiter vehicle in Bangalore on June 12, 2019.

Scientists work on the Chandrayaan-2 orbiter vehicle in Bangalore on June 12, 2019. (MANJUNATH KIRAN/AFP/Getty Images)

However, Israel’s unmanned Beresheet spacecraft crashed when it attempted to make a Moon landing on April 11. It was just a few hundred feet above the lunar surface when Mission Control in Yehud, Israel, lost contact with the probe.

A preliminary investigation found that a manual command caused the crash.

The U.S. also has its sights set on the celestial satellite. President Trump wants U.S. astronauts to return to the Moon as a foundation for future Mars missions.

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In a speech last year, Vice President Mike Pence discussed plans for a Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway, a NASA orbital outpost that will be in the vicinity of the Moon. The chair of the National Space Council described the goal of putting an American on board the Lunar Orbital Platform before the end of 2024. “We’re on the cusp of a new golden age of exploration,” Pence said.

Indian space scientist and Chairman of the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), Kailasavadivoo Sivan, gestures as he speaks during a press conference at the ISRO headquarters Antariksh Bhavan in Bangalore on June 12, 2019.

Indian space scientist and Chairman of the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), Kailasavadivoo Sivan, gestures as he speaks during a press conference at the ISRO headquarters Antariksh Bhavan in Bangalore on June 12, 2019. (MANJUNATH KIRAN/AFP/Getty Images)

Meanwhile, last month NASA selected three companies to deliver science and technology payloads to the lunar surface on robotic landers over the next few years. The deals form part of NASA’s Artemis program that aims to make new scientific discoveries and demonstrate new technologies supporting the goal of establishing a sustainable human presence on the Moon by 2028.

As part of its Artemis effort, the U.S. wants to land the next man and the first woman on the Moon by 2024. The astronauts will also be first humans to set foot on the Moon’s South Pole.

President Trump recently weighed in on NASA’s strategy, tweeting that the agency “should NOT be talking about going to the Moon - we did that 50 years ago.” In the tweet, which surprised many observers, Trump added that NASA “should be focused on the much bigger things we are doing, including Mars (of which the Moon is a part), Defense and Science!”

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The government space agency has a goal to send a manned mission to Mars in the 2030s.

The last time a human set foot on the Moon was during the Apollo 17 mission in December 1972. Only 12 men, all Americans, have set foot on the Moon.

July 20, 2019, marks the 50th anniversary of the historic Apollo 11 Moon landing and lunar missions continue to be a source of fascination.

A checklist that traveled to the surface of the Moon with Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin recently sold at auction in New York for $62,500. In the same auction, three tiny Moon rocks brought back from space by the unmanned Soviet Luna-16 mission were sold for $855,000.

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Dec. 21, 2018 also marked the 50th anniversary of the momentous Apollo 8 launch. During a series of historic lunar orbits, NASA astronauts Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and Bill Anders became the first humans to see the far side of the Moon.

Fox News’ Chris Ciaccia and the Associated Press contributed to this article.

Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers