NEW DELHI, India – Prime Minister Manmohan Singh confirmed Wednesday (August 15th) that India plans to launch a space probe that will orbit Mars. The confirmation came following press reports that the mission was scheduled to begin late next year, according to AFP.
The project would mark another step in the country's ambitious space programme, which placed a probe on the moon three years ago and envisages its first manned mission in 2016.
"Our spaceship will go near Mars and collect important scientific information," Singh said in his annual Independence Day address, heralding the plan as "a huge step for us in the area of science and technology".
The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) is expected to launch the unmanned orbiter as early as November next year, the Press Trust of India reported earlier this month.
According to one ISRO official, the cost of the mission has been estimated at four to five billion rupees ($70-90 million).
India has a well-established space programme, which is a source of strong national pride, but it has also attracted criticism as the government struggles to tackle dire poverty and child malnutrition.