India took a giant leap into the global space club Wednesday when its Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft blasted off on the country's first mission to the moon.
Chandrayaan-1 is unmanned, but its mission is long, complex and important. It will follow in the footsteps of the cost-effective and highly successful 1994 U.S. Clementine Deep Space Program Science Experiment that pioneered geologically mapping the moon.
The Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft will be prospecting from close lunar orbit for helium-3, a rare isotope that is regarded as the best hope for a future practical, cheap and safe, almost limitless fusion power source that could replace current fossil fuels, including oil. Scientists believe the moon may have far greater and easily available reservoirs of it in its surface crust than the Earth. Another mission priority will be to try to locate water on the barren lunar surface.
The Chandrayaan-1 launch is also a major morale boost for the world's second most populous nation after its fellow Asian nation China in September celebrated its first ever manned space walk.