India aborted the launch on Monday of a spacecraft intended to land on the far side of the moon less than an hour before liftoff, the AP reports. The Chandrayaan-2 mission was called off when a "technical snag" was observed in the 640-ton, 14-story rocket launcher, Indian Space Research Organization spokesman BR Guruprasad said. The countdown abruptly stopped at T-56 minutes, 24 seconds, and Guruprasad said that the agency would announce a revised launch date soon. Chandrayaan, the word for "moon craft" in Sanskrit, is designed for a soft landing on the lunar south pole and to send a rover to explore water deposits confirmed by a previous Indian space mission.
With nuclear-armed India poised to become the world's fifth-largest economy, the ardently nationalist government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi is eager to show off the country's prowess in security and technology. If India did manage the soft landing, it would be only the fourth to do so after the US, Russia and China. K. Sivan, chairman of the Indian Space Research Organization, said at a news conference last week that the roughly $140-million Chandrayaan-2 mission was the nation's "most prestigious" to date, in part because of the technical complexities of soft landing on the lunar surface—an event he described as "15 terrifying minutes." After countdown commenced on Sunday, Sivan visited two Hindu shrines to pray for the mission's success.
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