NASA’s Curiosity rover has managed to briefly drag the 24-hour news cycle away from the sex lives of people who are famous for no good reason, and even if it accomplishes nothing else we can be thankful for that small miracle. But while the NASA folks are deserving of every high five thrown their way, we aren’t the only players in the space race these days. India has announced that it plans to launch an unmanned mission to Mars next year, hoping to drop a probe into orbit to study the Red Planet’s climate and geology.
Indian Space Research Organization director Deviprasad Karnik told AFP that they “will embark on the Mars mission after the Department of Science gives the green signal and decides the schedule early next year.” The mission will utilize India’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, lifting off from the ISRO’s launch facility in Andhra Pradesh.
India is no newcomer to the final frontier, with the ISRO having been established in 1969, and currently ranking among the six largest governmental space agencies in the world. (For the record, the others are NASA, Russia’s RKA, the European Space Agency, China’s CNSA, and Japan’s JAXA.)
The ISRO has other ambitious plans lined up as well. They announced back in January of 2010 that they were planning their first manned space mission for 2016. If that mission is successful, India will enter an exclusive club that so far only includes the USA, Russia, and China.
Here’s wishing India good fortune with their missions, and I say the more countries setting their eyes on space, the better. Maybe if we are in danger of trailing behind our country will actually make space exploration a priority again.