NEW DELHI // Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh yesterday defended spending millions of dollars on space exploration despite many people in the country living in grinding poverty.
India plans to launch a probe to orbit Mars next year at an estimated cost of four billion to five billion rupees (Dh331.5 million), and hopes to send its first manned mission to space in 2016. Yesterday, India's national space organisation has marked its 100th mission by launching French and Japanese satellites.
"Questions are sometimes asked about whether a poor country like India can afford a space programme and whether the funds spent on space exploration, albeit modest, could be better utilised elsewhere," Mr Singh said in a speech.
"This misses the point that a nation's state of development is finally a product of its technological prowess."
India comes 134th among 187 countries in the United Nations' overall development rankings, while a survey earlier this year revealed that 42 per cent of Indian children aged under five are underweight due to malnutrition.
Mr Singh made his remarks in Andhra Pradesh state after witnessing the launch of the rocket carrying the two foreign commercial satellites.
"India is justly proud of its space scientists, who have overcome immense odds," he said.
In September 2009, India's Chandrayaan-1 lunar probe discovered water on the moon, boosting the country's credibility among more experienced space-faring nations.But the space programme suffered a setback in December 2010 when a satellite launch vehicle blew up after veering from its intended flight path.
India has had an active space programme since the 1960s.