India celebrates planting its flag on the moon

NEW DELHI (AP) - India is rejoicing today over its maiden lunar mission.

Across the region, banner headlines are proclaiming "The tricolor has landed" and "India is big cheese."

India's space agency has released the first pictures of the lightly cratered surface taken by a probe as it plummeted toward the south pole of the moon. The box-shaped device, painted with India's saffron, white and green flag, deployed late yesterday from the orbiting mother-craft. The probe also gathered other data India needs for a future moon landing.

The probe slammed into the surface at more than 3,100 mph. A space agency spokesman says the violent landing was planned. He says Indian scientists hope to study the images and data sent back by the probe during its 25 minute journey to prepare of a future "soft" landing.

To date only the U.S., Russia, the European Space Agency, Japan and China -- and now India -- have sent missions to the moon.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)