India to Launch Mission to Mars in 2013

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India is set to launch an unmanned mission to Mars next year, the country's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh announced this week.

The Mars Orbiter Mission will mark India's first mission aimed at the Red Planet and has been approved by India's Cabinet, Singh said during a speech Wednesday (Aug. 15) to celebrate the 65th anniversary of the country's independence from the British.

"Under this mission, our spaceship will go near Mars and collect important scientific information," Singh said, according to an official transcript. "This spaceship to Mars will be a huge step for us in the area of science and technology."

The Mars mission is slated to launch in November 2013 and cost about 4.5 billion rupee ($82 million), according to the Associated Press.

India's Mars mission announcement comes on the heels of the landing of NASA's Mars rover Curiosity, which touched down on the Red Planet on Aug. 5. The $2.5 billion Curiosity rover weighs a ton and is the size of a Mini Cooper car. NASA expects the rover to spend at least two years exploring its landing site, Gale Crater, to determine if the region could have ever supported microbial life.

India has been working to expand its space program in stages and successfully launched an unmanned orbiter to the moon in 2008. That spacecraft, called Chandrayaan-1, was instrumental in proving that water ice exists on the lunar surface.

The India Space Research Organisation, the country's space agency, is also developing the follow-up moon mission Chandrayaan-2, which is currently expected to launch in 2013 as well. The new mission is expected to include a lunar orbiter, like the Chandrayaan-1 flight, as well as a robotic lander and rover to explore the moon's surface.

India is also developing its own human spaceflight program and hopes to launch the nation's first manned spaceflight in 2015.

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