India plans moon mission 'by 2007'
NEW DELHI, India -- Indian space scientists believe the moon is within reach for the country's space program and expect to launch an unmanned lunar probe within five years, reports say.
According to the Times of India, scientists with the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) have sent a report to government officials saying they have the technical capability to launch an expedition to Earth's nearest neighbor by 2007.
They say they expect the project to cost in the region of $82.5 million.
To date only three countries have sent missions to the moon -- the United States, Russia and Japan.
India already has a proven satellite launch vehicle and plans to use a modified version of the same rocket, the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV), for the lunar shot.
"Our studies clearly indicate that this country has the technical capability to launch this mission and place a satellite in the lunar orbit for carrying out scientific studies," George Joseph, head of the lunar mission task force, told the Times.
He added that several ground projects, including the development of a deep space communications network, would have to be set up first for the project to succeed.
India's space program has been running since 1972, but a mission to the moon would be its first venture into deep space.
To date Indian space launches have focused on placing communications, weather and mapping satellites in orbit.
Critics of India's lunar ambitions say any such mission would have only limited scientific value and be a waste of cash on a mission primarily designed just to boost national prestige.
They say the money used by the project would be better spent on much needed health, educational and other development projects to help millions of desperately poor Indians.
However, nationalist politicians are known to favor the project believing a successful lunar mission will galvanize popular feelings in India in the way that the country's nuclear tests did back in 1998.
India insists its space program is purely for civilian interests, but defense experts say that developments in Indian rocket technology are also likely to help the military in its goal of producing a homegrown intercontinental ballistic missile.
China, which has ambitious plans for manned space exploration, is also thought to have its eye on a lunar mission although it too only plans to use unmanned spacecraft.
China and India have long been seen as unofficial rivals for the leadership of the developing world, particularly in the field of scientific developments.
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