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Last Updated: Wednesday, 7 January, 2004, 13:34 GMT
Moon call goes out to scientists
By Richard Black
BBC science correspondent, in Chandigarh

Moon, AP
The Indian President, Doctor A P J Abdul Kalam, has issued an invitation to scientists to put their experiments on the country's first Moon mission.

The Chandrayaan Mission, as it is known, will be an unmanned probe and is scheduled for launch in 2007 or 2008.

Commentators say there is now a space race of sorts in Asia with several countries in the region keen to exploit new rocket and satellite technologies.

The president was speaking at the Indian Science Congress in Chandigarh.

Mission objectives

China made the world sit up when it put a man in orbit in October last year.

The Indian nation, too, hopes to impress when it launches a half-tonne craft on an Indian-built rocket towards a lunar orbit.

The mission has a political purpose in demonstrating the technological achievements of a developing nation. But not all of the scientific objectives have been decided.

Dr Kalam, a distinguished former scientist himself, said it was now up to Indian researchers to come forward with ideas.

"The exploration of the Moon through Chandrayaan will electrify the entire country, particularly young scientists and children," he said.

"Since you are all scientists, I want to convey to you... any scientist who wants to do that research on the Moon or wants to research the Moon environment, we'll support them to do the research," he told the congress here in Chandigarh.

Water security

The Chandrayaan Mission will contribute more to Indian pride and Indian technology than to human progress.

But the majority of Dr Kalam's speech urged scientists to work for the good of the developing world and, in particular, to help India attain its declared goal of becoming a developed country by the year 2020.

Agricultural yields must double in 10 years, he said; an Aids vaccine also had to be developed and proven for use. Dr Kalam also spoke of the need for greater water security through the interlinking of rivers and the building of desalination plants.

And he talked about developing a nuclear reactor that could exploit India's vast reserves of thorium.

In the West, political figures of Dr Kalam's stature almost never attend these science gatherings; even those national leaders such as Margaret Thatcher who had a background in science.

That he did come perhaps indicates the developing world's greater need for science and a greater awareness of the advances it can bring.

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