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Friday, 10 January, 2003, 16:46 GMT
India and China face off in space
China, AP
China is determined to follow the Russians and Americans

India's desire to get to the Moon is another example of how Chinese space plans are shaking up the international space scene.

China, expected to place its own astronaut into space in the latter half of this year, is also planning to explore the Earth satellite.

It intends to start sending a series of unmanned probes there in a few years. A manned mission in about 10 years is a possibility; the country will have to see how its first manned flights into low-Earth orbit progress.

These plans make the Indian Government, led by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vaypayee, want to beat the Chinese to it.

Russian help

Such ambitions, from a country where more than 30% of its enormous population exist below the poverty line, demonstrate just how much India wants to be a major player on the international scene.

It already has nuclear weapons, and the means to deliver them, and will not allow China to move too far ahead technologically.

Open in new window : Apollo 17
The last men to walk on the Moon

But getting a satellite into space is one thing, getting a probe to fly past the Moon is another - as is getting a probe to soft-land on the Moon. And placing an astronaut on the lunar surface is a whole leap forward again.

India's own rockets are impressive but it would need a new rocket completely to satisfy its Moon ambitions.

Of course, it realises that. That is why India has been unofficially talking with Russian scientists about a joint mission to the Moon.

First astronaut

One of the ideas under discussion is that Russia will provide the rocket and India the spaceprobe.

China has already selected its first astronaut. Western experts are speculating that his name is Chen Long, one of 14 pilots selected for training.

China, AP
Getting bigger: Chinese technology has been aided by the Russians
Expect him to ride into orbit in September, a month before the October anniversary of the communist revolution.

A Chinese astronaut, making China only the third nation able to send anyone into space, will be galling to the Indians.

That is why they are developing their Moon plans now and preparing for an Indo-China space race.

What the world's only space superpower, the United States will say about China and India looking towards the Moon, which it conquered and abandoned so long ago, one can only speculate.

See also:

06 Jan 03 | South Asia
02 Jan 03 | Asia-Pacific
14 Dec 02 | Science/Nature
27 Jul 02 | Science/Nature
21 May 02 | Science/Nature
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