India terminated its first mission to the moon Sunday, a spokesman for the national space agency said, a day after scientists lost all contact with an unmanned spacecraft orbiting the moon.

Our efforts to establish contact have failed. The mission has been terminated, said S. Satish, spokesman of the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO). There was no point continuing with the mission.

Communications with the Chandrayaan-1 craft broke down early Saturday. The cause of the malfunction is being investigated.

The $79 million mission was launched amid national euphoria last October, putting India in the Asian space race alongside rival China and reinforcing its claim to be considered a global power.

A vehicle landed on the moon a month later and sent back images of the lunar surface.

But a crucial sensor in the main craft, orbiting the moon, malfunctioned in July, raising fears that the two-year mission might have to be curtailed.

One of the mission's main tasks was to look for Helium 3, an isotope which is very rare on earth but could be an energy source in the future in nuclear fusion.

Satish said preparations had already begun for Chandrayaan-2, also an unmanned mission to the moon, which India hopes to launch by 2012.

This would be a step toward achieving the ISRO's goal of sending a manned mission into space in four years' time and eventually sending a spacecraft to Mars.

(Writing by Krittivas Mukherjee, editing by Tim Pearce)