Russia, China, Europe and now India are also planning manned missions to the moon.
No longer will the US be the sole proprietor of lunar real estate.
The Indian Space Research Agency (ISRO) has proposed starting a human spaceflight program, with the first manned flight taking place by 2014 leading up to landing an Indian national on the Moon by 2020, ahead of China.
The controversial recommendation marks a huge shift in ISRO’s oft repeated policy that it will use space technology for national development needs such as telecommunications, health care, education and environmental monitoring. In the past the agency has stayed away from manned flight because of the huge costs involved.
“That policy – pronounced four decades ago by Vikram Sarabai, father of India’s space program — had to change for two reasons,” ISRO chairman Gopalan Madhavan Nair said in a Nov. 9 interview.
“We believe that pushing forward human presence in space may become essential for planetary exploration, a goal we have set for ISRO 20 years from now,” he said. “Secondly, with India’s booming economy, costs should not be a hurdle.”
A human presence in space, Nair said, is important in the future if India wants a leadership role. The manned space mission “will be a national effort and mostly indigenous,” he added.
Nair presented ISRO’s new plans to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Oct. 17 and, on the latter’s advice, threw open the topic for a brainstorming session by a cross section of the scientific community who met Nov.7 in Bangalore.
“The meeting unanimously agreed that manned missions are a logical next step and endorsed our proposal,” Nair told Space News.
A detailed report will be submitted to the government before the end of the year for a formal approval that is a foregone conclusion given the fact India’s President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, a former ISRO scientist, is himself backing the mission. Initial funding of the program would begin April 1, 2007, the beginning of the country’s fiscal year.
While ISRO is just now revealing its plans, it has been quietly preparing for manned space missions ever since China put an astronaut in space in 2003.
It has redesigned an existing satellite launcher – the GSLV — to carry a crew of two and has already built a space recovery capsule, said B.N. Suresh, director of the ISRO centre in Trivandrum that will build the version of the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) that will be used for the unmanned moon mission and the modified GSLV that will be used for the manned flights.