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updated 1/22/2007 12:46:25 PM ET 2007-01-22T17:46:25

India’s space agency said on Monday that an orbiting capsule had been successfully returned to Earth, marking a major step toward the development of a highly prized human spaceflight program.

The capsule was blasted into space as one of four payloads on Jan. 10 from a launch pad 60 miles (100 kilometers) north of the southern city of Chennai. It splashed down in the Bay of Bengal 11 days later, boosting plans for a lunar mission in 2008.

“(It) landed in the Bay of Bengal ... as per schedule. The mission is a great success,” said A. Subramoniam, head of the team that designed and built the capsule at the Indian Space Research Organization. “This mission is a steppingstone to design and build our very own reusable spacecraft, and eventually (carry out) manned missions into space, too.”

Coast guard boats had already fished the capsule from the sea, another scientist said.

Though India has for years been building communication and remote-sensing satellites, this was its first foray into deploying reusable spacecraft, joining an elite club led by the United States, Russia, China, Japan and France.

The success of the mission is a morale booster for Indian space scientists who are busy preparing for the country’s first unmanned lunar mission. The spacecraft, Chandrayaan 1, is due for launch in February 2008, powered by a locally built rocket.

India hopes to put an astronaut into space by 2014 despite limited funding for its fledgling program.

Copyright 2012 Thomson Reuters. Click for restrictions.

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