BANGALORE, India — India on Friday hailed the discovery of water on the moon as a triumph for its lunar programme as the country aims to cement its reputation as a serious player in the space industry.
The mood among India's space scientists has gone from disappointment last month when its Chandrayaan-1 satellite mission was prematurely aborted to jubilation with news of a major discovery made in partnership with NASA.
"India should be proud that Chandrayaan discovered water on the moon," said a smiling G. Madhavan Nair, chief of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), at a press conference to discuss the findings.
"For the first time in the history of space research, water is confirmed on the moon. It is acknowledged the world over that this is a real discovery and a path-breaking event for the Indian space agency," he added.
In one of the three papers published in the latest edition of the journal Science on Thursday, researchers said they had analysed light waves detected by NASA-made instruments on board the Indian satellite and two other US probes.
The reflected light waves showed a chemical bond between oxygen and hydrogen -- proof, the researchers said, of the existence of water on the moon's surface.
Until now, scientists had advanced the theory that, except for the possibility of ice at the bottom of craters, the moon was totally dry.
There could also be more to come from India's space agency once massive amounts of data beamed back to the national space centre in Bangalore are analysed, Nair added.
"There could be much more interesting facts. We will talk about all of it once we have concrete data analysis report," he said of the data which "has filled the computers in ISRO as well in NASA".
India launched Chandrayaan and fired a probe onto the moon's surface late last year in an event that the national space agency hoped would bring it international recognition.
The probe's landing vaulted India into the league of space-faring nations led by the United States and regional neighbours Russia, China and Japan, and was seen as a symbolic and proud moment in the country's development.
But there was disappointment last month when Chandrayaan lost contact with its controllers and the mission was aborted only 10 months into a planned two years.
Nair said India's Moon Impact Probe "had picked up strong signals of water particles" which were corroborated by data from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) scanners.
Indian newspapers headlined their front pages with news of the discovery on Friday and cable television included discussions of the event marked by thinly disguised patriotic fervour.
"One Big Step For India, A Giant Leap for Mankind," said The Times of India. "Water on moon: Chandrayaan's stunning find," headlined the Hindustan Times.
The mission cost 80 million dollars, less than half the amount spent on similar expeditions by other countries, and India is keen to use its cost advantage to capture a large slice of the satellite business.
The euphoria over Chandrayaan came on top of celebrations over India's successful launch Wednesday of seven satellites -- six of them foreign -- in a single mission.
India began its space programme in 1963, developing its own satellites and launch vehicles to cut dependence on overseas agencies.
The latest discovery was made possible by US-made technology, however.
The NASA-developed "Moon Mineralogy Mapper", or M3, is a high-tech scanner that tracks the reflection of sunlight off the moon's surface to determine soil composition.
The new research used input from two other probes equipped with M3-type instruments, which also detected the chemical signature for the presence of water.
The American spacecraft Cassini passed near the moon a decade ago on its way to Saturn, while a third probe, also American, called Deep Impact, passed near the moon in 2005 to gather data with an instrument similar to M3.
The new data came just two weeks before a NASA probe is to crash into the surface near the moon's southern pole to see if water can be detected in the dust and debris released by the impact.
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