India's space race takes flak

India has endorsed an ambitious $2,5-billion plan to launch its first astronauts into orbit by 2015, a move seen as an attempt to catch up with its bigger neighbour, China, in an emerging Asian space race.

The Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) proposes to put two people into space, 274km above the earth, for seven days—a plan endorsed by the country’s top economic policymaking body, the Planning Commission.

The Human Space Flight project will have two phases: an unmanned flight launched in 2013 or 2014 and a manned mission the following year. The Indian cabinet still has to approve the plan but a spokesman for Isro said the support of the commission was a “major step forward”.

If the country succeeded, it would become only the fourth—after the United States, Russia and China—to send a man into space. But India is not the only Asian country in the new space race: Iran recently announced that it will attempt a manned space flight by 2021.

But some experts have criticised the move. Gopal Raj, author of Reach for the Stars, a book about the country’s rocket programme, said: “This smacks of Isro looking to keep up with China. It’s becoming a national prestige issue. I am not sure what you get from astronauts in space. Even the Europeans, who are much richer, have not got manned space flight programmes.”—



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