- Associated Press - Thursday, December 18, 2014

NEW DELHI (AP) - India on Thursday announced two more successes in its space program - launching the country’s largest rocket and testing the re-entry of an unmanned crew module, part of India’s quest to send humans into space.

The Indian Space and Research Organization said that the 630-ton rocket blasted off from Sriharikota in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh.

The rocket was carrying the crew module and released it 125 kilometers (78 miles) above the Earth. The pod, meant for carrying two to three astronauts, splashed down in the Bay of Bengal, said K. Radhakrishnan, ISRO chairman.

He said Thursday marked a “very significant day in India’s space history.”

But experts say it will be several years before India can send astronauts into space.

In September, it joined an elite club when it successfully guided its Mars Orbiter Mission into orbit around the red planet. Only the United States, former Soviet Union and European Space Agency have been able to do that before.

India, which is striving to become a player in the multi-billion dollar space market, has successfully launched lighter satellites in recent years, but has faced problems sending up heavier payloads.

Pallava Bagla, a space expert, said the newly-developed rocket would double the capacity to 4 tons of what India can carry into space.

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