NEW DELHI, Aug 15: India plans to send a spacecraft to Mars next year in a giant leap forward for science and technology in the country, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said Wednesday.
Singh said the unmanned spacecraft will enter orbit around the planet and collect scientific information.
He announced the 4.5 billion rupee ($82 million) mission during a speech marking the 65th anniversary of India´s independence from British rule.
"This spaceship to Mars will be a huge step for us in the area of science and technology," he said.
India´s President elect Pranab Mukherjee, right, and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, greet the media outside Mukherjee´s residence in New Delhi, India, Sunday,. (AP)
The spacecraft is to be launched in November 2013 on a frequently used rocket developed by the Indian Space Research Organization.
India has had an active space program since the 1960s. Since the 1970s it has launched scores of satellites for itself and for nearly two dozen other countries.
In 2008, India successfully sent a probe to the moon that detected evidence of water on the lunar surface for the first time. India is also planning a rover mission to the moon and is awaiting budgetary approval for a manned space mission.
Critics of Singh´s Congress party say the government´s priorities are skewed and it should concentrate instead on providing the basic needs of people such as electricity and safe drinking water. Last week, more than 600 million people lost power for hours when the country´s decrepit electricity grid collapsed.
Indian scientists dismiss the criticism, saying that technology developed as part of the space program has resulted in spinoffs in other areas.
"It is certainly not a question of misplaced priorities," former ISRO chief U.R. Rao was quoted as saying by The Asian Age newspaper.
ISRO chief K. Radhakrishnan says the Mars mission must take place when the planet is closest to Earth, which happens every 26 months. There are three "windows of opportunity" in late 2013, 2016 and 2018, and Indian scientists are aiming to be ready for the 2013 opportunity, he said.
Indian PM pledges to attract more foreign investment
NEW DELHI, Aug 15: Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh used his Independence Day speech on Wednesday to promise to improve conditions for foreign investment in the country after a sharp downturn in economic growth.
India recorded near double-digit expansion over much of the last decade but the economy grew by just 5.3 percent in the January-March quarter, a rate that threatens to stall its transformation since the early 1990s.
Singh said that the government would "leave no stone unturned to encourage investment in our country", and vowed to increase spending on much-needed infrastructure projects such as roads, railways and the electricity network.
"To attract foreign capital, we will have to create confidence at the international level that there are no barriers to investment in India," Singh said, in a signal that further liberalisation reforms were in the pipeline.
Foreign companies keen to tap into India´s emerging consumer society have poured into India, but have often struggled to thrive amid government policy U-turns, endemic corruption and bewildering red tape.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh delivers his speech on the ocassion of the 66th Independence Day at the Red Fort in New Delhi on August 15, 2012. Manmohan Singh used his Independence Day speech on August 15 to promise to improve conditions for foreign investment in the country after a sharp downturn in economic growth. (AFP)
The ruling Congress party is already concerned about general elections due in 2014, and the prime minister has launched a campaign to revive its flagging fortunes since P. Chidambaram was named finance minister two weeks ago.
Singh, delivering the traditional Independence Day address at the Red Fort in Delhi, said that the world economy was "passing through a difficult phase", which had merged with India´s domestic situation to hinder growth.
"We cannot do much about the conditions that prevail outside our country," he said. "But we must make every effort to resolve the problems inside our country so that our economic growth (is)... again speeded up."
He added that growth must be obtained while controlling inflation, which is likely to be stoked by a poor monsoon this year -- though the inflation rate unexpectedly dropped to 6.87 percent in July from 7.25 percent in June.
Singh, 79, who is expected to step down before the elections, repeated his forecast that annual GDP growth would exceed last year´s rate of 6.5 percent, a prediction dismissed by opposition leaders and some independent economists.