India's space agency approved plans onTuesday for its first manned mission into space, which, if successful, would make India only the fourth nation to launch an astronaut intoorbit aboard its own rocket.

The state-run Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) said it aims to put an astronaut outside the Earth's atmosphere by 2014.

The announcement came after 80 top Indian scientists met Tuesday in the country'stechnology centre of Bangalore to discuss studies carried out in the last four years examining India's capability tohandle the technological challenges of such a mission.

"The gathering of scientists attending the meeting today was highly appreciative of the study conducted by ISRO and unanimous in suggesting that the time is appropriate for India to undertake a manned mission," the ISRO said in a statement.

The agency said it is already working on the launch of its first unmanned mission to orbit the moon in 2008.

A new space race

The Indian space agency said it will submit the proposal for a manned mission to the federal government for approval and funding. The mission is expected to cost $2.2 billion US.

In just a few short years, India has emerged as a technological powerhouse in Asia and a rival to its northern neighbourChina, which became the third nation, alongside the United States and the former Soviet Union, to launch a human into orbit in October 2003with the successful launch of its Shenzhou 5 spacecraft.

Efforts by countriesto launch manned space missions have been overshadowed in recent years by space tourism on NASA and Russian launchers and private enterprises such as SpaceShipOne, the first privately funded human spaceflight on June 21, 2004.

In 1984, Rakesh Sharma became the first Indian to go into space while riding in a Soviet spacecraft.