NEW DELHI – India will send a manned flight into space by 2022, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced Wednesday as part of India’s Independence Day celebrations.
He said India will become the fourth country — after Russia, the United States and China — to achieve the feat, and its astronaut could be either a man or a woman.
The space capsule that will transport India’s astronauts was tested a few days ago.
Rakesh Sharma was the first Indian to travel in space, aboard a Soviet rocket in 1984.
As part of its own space program, India put a satellite into orbit around Mars in 2014.
Stepping up its rivalry with China, India has invested heavily in its space program in the past decade.
It is aiming to send an unmanned mission to the moon in January, the Indian Space Research Organization announced last week. The Chandrayaan-2 orbiter will aim to put a craft with a rover onto the moon’s surface to collect data. Design changes to the craft forced the space body to push the launch back from this year.
Chandrayaan-1, launched in 2008, orbited the moon and sent a probe to the surface in a controlled crash landing.
India also launched an orbiter to Mars in 2013 that is still operational, and in 2017 launched a record 104 satellites in one blastoff.
Modi’s 80-minute speech, broadcast live from the historic Red Fort in Delhi, comes months before national elections.
Amid concerns about lack of jobs and rising violence against the Muslim minority, Modi listed his government’s achievements in the past four years in reforming the country’s economy, reducing poverty and corruption. He announced a health insurance scheme for 500 million poor people providing cover of 500,000 rupees ($7,150) per family a year.
He said India will become a growth engine for the world economy as the “sleeping elephant” has started to run on the back of structural economic reforms.
He said its economy was seen as fragile before 2014 but was now attracting investment. India is the sixth-largest economy in the world, and Modi said international institutions see India as giving strength to the world economy for the next three decades.
He said the structural reforms like a national tax replacing various national and local taxes, bankruptcy and insolvency laws, and a crackdown on corruption have helped transform the economy.
In his speech, Modi said the pace of building highways, electrifying villages and building toilets has increased since his landslide 2014 election win, which devastated the main opposition party, Congress.
Critics say Modi’s tenure has been marred by violence against Muslim cattle traders and economic jolts through a countrywide ban on high-value notes and the botched launch of the unified taxation system.
Congress, which had ruled India for decades, is now trying to unify the opposition to challenge Modi, whose personal ratings remain high despite recent election setbacks.
India won independence from British colonialists in 1947.