The Indian government has been "sensitised" on the issue of manned space flights and India's space agency will be able to send crew to space in seven to eight years, G Madhavan Nair, head of India's space programme, said in Washington.
"We have sensitised the government on manned space flights. In seven to eight years, we will be able to carry crew to orbit and back," Nair, chairman of Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and of the Space Commission, said in Washington.
He said India believes that space is the next frontier and international cooperation rather than competition in this field will be the future.
Nair, on his first visit to the US to strengthen bilateral ties with his American counterparts, was speaking on 'Global space agenda: Transforming India's space program' under the aegis of the Space Initiatives of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), an independent Washington-based think-tank.
Nair felt that though India and the US enjoy good relations on the political front, there is need to expedite the process of moving forward on space cooperation and space commerce.
"In 2005, our prime minister Manmohan Singh visited here and with President Bush agreed to strengthen the relations in space cooperation, space commerce and so on. We are trying to move forward on this," he said.
Nair said despite hiccups in cooperation caused by US' export control regulations, there have been some good signs. He gave the instance of the recent success with Raytheon on GPS and the soured deal with another company on semiconductor fabrication.
"The process is rather slow and I wish it was faster," Nair said.
He acknowledged that the US played a major role in the initial stages of India's space programme, and now again, India's first mission to the moon, Chandrayaan-I, scheduled to be launched in the middle of 2008, will carry two American instruments.
"Chandrayaan-I will orbit the moon for two years and atlas the lunar surface," he said.
Brushing off a question from the audience about military programmes, Nair said ISRO was committed to the peaceful application of outer space. "For military purposes, there is the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), with which ISRO has no commonalities," he clarified.
Besides the US, India was cooperating with other space agencies such as in France and Russia, Nair said.
On India venturing into space commerce, Nair mentioned launching two major satellites for Italy and Israel, and half a dozen small satellites for others.
The ISRO chairman reiterated the Indian space programme's commitment to improving the quality of life of the common man, which has meant judiciously allocating the budget - a frugal 0.03 per cent of the GDP compared to 0.14 per cent the US spends - to programmes for earth observation, remote sensing and communication.
"One study we commissioned found that of the $2 billion we spent till 2003 on the space programme, the social delivery was worth $3 billion," Nair pointed out proudly.