Space Race In Asia - India Poured £1.7bn To Launch Astronauts To Moon

. 2/23/09

ISRO's plans are a waste of money in a country where the 76 per cent of the population of 1.1 billion live on less than $2 a day, and child malnutrition levels are on a par with sub-Saharan Africa.

India has approved a £1.7 billion plan to launch its first astronauts into space by 2015, in its latest bid to close the gap with China in what many see as a 21st Century Asian version of the Cold War race for the Moon.

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) will attempt to put two people into orbit 172 miles (275 km) above the Earth for seven days, according to a proposal approved by the Planning Commission at a meeting on Friday.

"ISRO needs to be supported as it has done marvellous job in the field of Space Science. That's why Planning Commission will support it," Montek Singh Ahluwalia, Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission, told reporters.

"An unmanned flight will be launched in 2013-2014 and manned mission likely to launch by 2014-2015," he said.

The Cabinet must still sign off on the plan, but that is expected to be a formality now that the Planning Commission has approved it, S. Satish, a spokesman for ISRO, told The Times.

The decision follows ISRO's successful launch in October of India's first unmanned lunar mission, Chandrayaan-1, which is now orbiting the Moon to compile a 3-D map of its surface among other things.

That mission catapulted India into the world's most elite club, rubbing shoulders with the United States, Russia, Japan and China as the only countries capable of independently reaching the Moon.

India's second unmanned lunar mission, Chandrayaan-2, is already scheduled to be launched in 2011.

ISRO has also been lobbying for years to secure government funding for its plans to send an astronaut into space by 2014 - eleven years after China - and to the Moon by 2020, four years ahead of China's target date.

Critics say ISRO's plans are a waste of money in a country where the 76 per cent of the population of 1.1 billion live on less than $2 a day, and child malnutrition levels are on a par with sub-Saharan Africa.

But ISRO argues that India makes money from commercial satellite launches, and scientific research from the space programme has helped to develop its information technology industry.

Indian officials, especially in the military, are also concerned that India lags far behind China, which shot down a satellite in 2007 and completed its first space walk last year.

Richard Fischer Jr, a senior fellow on Asian Military Affairs at the International Assessment and Strategy Centre, said last week that India needed to review its space programme to confront the military threat from China.

"We have to look forward to China performing military activities from the Moon," he said.

ISRO's ambitious plans were given a significant boost last week when the government increased its budget for this year by 27 per cent to 44.6 billion rupees (£613m).

Of that, 1.75 billion rupees (£24m) is to be spent on training astronauts and other space science personnel - representing a 73 percent increase over last year.

K Radhakrishnan, a member of India's Space Commission and Director of the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre, said the budget approved last Friday would cover development of a new space vehicle.

"We are planning to put persons in the vehicle and launch them into space for seven days in an orbit of 275 km," he told reporters.

ISRO says the vehicle will be launched on a modified version of ISRO's Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle Mark 2, which is currently under development and is due to be tested for the first time later this year.

Russia will help to build the astronaut capsule and select and train the astronauts under an agreement signed in December on a state visit to India by Dmitry Medvedev, Russia's President.

The agreement also stipulates that an Indian astronaut will fly aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft in 2013, making him or her only the second Indian ever to enter orbit.

Rakesh Sharma, the first Indian in space, was sent into orbit in 1984 on board a Soyuz capsule launched by the Soviet Union, which supported India's space programme throughout the Cold War.
Source: Times Online

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