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     India riding high on success in space

June 10th 2007, The Yomiuri Shimbun

The following is the first installment in the second part of a series of articles on new developments in India, which celebrates the 60th anniversary of its independence this year.

India's space center is located on Sriharikota Island in the Indian Ocean. On April 23, a 44-meter rocket was launched successfully from the Satish Dhawan Space Center on the island.

"It's a 100 percent success," declared Madhavan Nair, chairman of the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO). He posed proudly for photos with a model of the domestically produced PSLV-C8 rocket, which was launched from the center, along with Giovanni Bignami, president of the Italian Space Agency (ASI).

The Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle was used to send Italy's astronomical satellite AGILE into orbit. With this successful launch, India entered into the international space business. "We've also received two inquiries on satellite launches. Our strong point is price competitiveness, as demonstrated by the fact that the launching cost this time was about 80 percent (about 1.23 billion yen) of that charged by other countries," Nair said at ISRO's office in New Delhi.

India plans to launch its first lunar probe satellite Chandrayaan-1, meaning moon vehicle in Hindi, in early 2008. The satellite will orbit the moon for two years to investigate mineral distribution on the lunar surface. Nair also expressed more ambitious plans, saying, "No equipment is superior to human eyes in observation capabilities." He revealed a plan to conduct a manned space flight using the country's own spacecraft in 2015, followed by a moon landing of a manned probe five years after that. Manned space flights would cost 100 billion Indian rupees (about 300 billion yen). But Nair expressed confidence in the success of the project, saying, "We have sufficient technical prowess."

India's space development program was launched in 1962, but was rudimentary in its initial years. Even in 1975, the country had to ask the former Soviet Union to launch an artificial satellite. In 1980, India successfully launched its first domestically manufactured rocket Satellite Launch Vehicle, setting the stage for the successful launch of the current PSLV model in 1993.

People in the field believe India is close to joining the exclusive club in terms of space development, which comprises the United States, Russia, European nations, China and Japan.

India has been promoting space exploration by investing an enormous amount of money--despite the high rate of poverty in the country--to enhance the nation's prestige and lead to the country being regarded as a superpower.

Human resources also have been cultivated. The most spectacular among them is Kalpana Chawla, who became the first Indian woman to enter the Punjab Engineering College's Aeronautical Engineering Department in 1978 when India was still at the dawn of space exploration. She later obtained U.S. citizenship and began working at the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

When she was chosen to be an astronaut on the Columbia space shuttle, she attracted a great deal of attention in her home country. Chawla died at the age of 41 when Columbia broke apart in midair before landing in February 2003.

In a public opinion survey of young women conducted by an Indian newspaper in March, Chawla topped the list of ideal women. A student dormitory named Kalpana has been built at her alma mater, Punjab Engineering College.

"She's a source of pride here at her alma mater," said a 19-year-old female student. "I want to become an astronaut after graduation."


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