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Must Read: India joins elite club as country plants its flag on moon

NEW DELHI - India rejoiced Saturday at joining an elite club by planting its flag on the moon as the country's space agency released the first pictures of the cratered surface taken by its maiden lunar mission.

A probe sent late Friday from the orbiting mother spacecraft took pictures and gathered other data India needs for a future moon landing as it plummeted to a crash-landing at the moon's south pole, said Indian Space Research Organization spokesman B.R. Guruprasad.

The box-shaped probe was painted with India's saffron, white and green flag, sparking celebrations in the country that is striving to become a world power.

'The tricolor has landed,' the Hindustan Times said in a banner headline, while The Asian Age proclaimed 'India is big cheese.'

As India's economy has boomed in recent years, it has sought to convert its newfound wealth - built on the nation's high-tech sector - into political and military clout. The moon mission comes just months after it finalized a deal with the United States that recognizes India as a nuclear power, and leaders hope the mission will further enhance its prestige.

'This momentous achievement shall be etched in the history of India as a grateful tribute to our scientific community for their resolute efforts to take India to a global leadership position,' said Sonia Gandhi, head of the ruling Congress party.

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

But while the celebrations conjured up images akin to that of the U.S. flag unfurled on the moon by Apollo astronauts, India's flag is most likely scattered over a wide swath of the moon's Shackleton crater after the probe slammed into the surface at more than 3,100 miles per hour.

The violent landing was planned and Indian scientists hope to study the images and data sent back by the probe during its 25-minute descent to prepare for a future 'soft' landing, Guruprasad told The Associated Press. It carried a video imaging system, a radar altimeter and a mass spectrometer.