India plans manned spaceflight

India is planning its first manned spaceflight as early as 2016.

The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) says it will soon pick two astronauts for the week-long, low-orbit mission.

It plans to build a training facility for astronauts in southern India, and will also create a third paunch pad at its spaceport near Chennai.

The $4.8 billion budget for the project has been sent for government approval.

At the announcement, former ISRO chief UR Rao also spoke about the potential benefits of a moon mission. He toldThe Hindu that he believed that deep tunnels beneath the lunar surface might be suitable for habitation.

He also said he believed that around 2,500 million tonnes of helium-3 existed on the lunar surface: “This quantity will be enough to meet the Earth’s energy requirement for 10,000 years,” he said.

Last year, ISRO launched its first unmanned mission to the moon. Chandrayaan-1 dropped a probe onto the lunar surface and completed more than 3,400 orbits before communications failed.

ISRO plans to launch Chandrayaan-2 in 2012, and is also looking ahead to 2030, when it is planning a mission to Mars.