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Last Updated: Tuesday, 28 February 2006, 22:43 GMT
Venezuela kicks off space effort
By Greg Morsbach
BBC News, Venezuela

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez at a recent rally
Critics say Mr Chavez should be spending the money on job creation
Venezuelan scientists are going to China to begin work on Venezuela's first satellite - the first step on the way to a national space programme.

President Hugo Chavez has earmarked around $0.5bn (287m) to get the space agency off the ground in 2007.

The 30 scientists will be joined by another 60 next year to build the satellite along with China.

Venezuela's government hopes to use it to broadcast many of its own radio and TV programmes throughout Latin America.

The Simon Bolivar satellite, named after the Venezuelan independence hero, is supposed to be launched into space by August 2008.

Mr Chavez wants the satellite to be blasted into orbit from a Venezuelan launch pad.

High cost

The leftwing president is using part of his country's oil wealth to become a member of an elite club of nations which have their own space programmes.

The Venezuela government intends to put several satellites into space, some of which will be used for geological surveys of the Earth.

Venezuela's military will play a key role in the space programme and so the satellites could eventually be used to gather intelligence.

But the government's critics appear to be more concerned with the cost.

A presidential candidate from the opposition recently said he welcomed Venezuela's foray into space but only if the government started tackling more basic problems such as creating jobs.

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