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India to launch Mars mission: PM

  • This image provided by NASA shows the Gale Crater Martian landing site for the Curiosity Mars rover. (AP Photo/NASA)

  • This color image taken August 8, 2012 from NASA's Curiosity rover, and released August 13, shows part of the wall of Gale Crater, the location on Mars where the rover landed on August 5, 2012. (REUTERS/NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

  • Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh addresses the nation from a bullet-proof enclosure as India's national flag flutters at the historic Red Fort, during Independence Day celebrations in Delhi August 15, 2012. (REUTERS/Adnan Abidi)

NEW DELHI: India plans to launch a space probe that will orbit Mars, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh confirmed Wednesday after press reports that the mission was scheduled to begin late next year.

 

The project would mark another step in the country's ambitious space program, 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 Organization (ISRO) is expected to launch the unmanned orbiter as early as November next year, the Press Trust of India news agency 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).

 

The United States, Russia, Europe, Japan and China have all sent missions to Mars.

 

The U.S. robot Curiosity is currently on the surface of the "Red Planet" after landing last week to hunt for soil-based signs of life and send back data for a future human mission.

 

India's planned Mars mission comes as the government has been under pressure over issues such as massive power shortages and the nation's poor transport infrastructure.

 

Blackouts on two consecutive days this month knocked out power in vast swathes of the country.

 
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