Top Space Official On Gaganyaan

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'Indian Astronauts In India-Made Rocket...': Top Space Official On Gaganyaan

Dr Unnikrishnan Nair, head of the elite Vikram Sarabhai Space Center in Kerala’s Thiruvananthapuram.


The Gaganyaan manned space flight mission will launch “Indian astronauts into space from Indian soil on an India-made rocket”, Dr Unnikrishnan Nair, the head of the elite Vikram Sarabhai Space Center in Kerala’s Thiruvananthapuram, told NDTV in a special interview this week.

Expected to cost Rs 9,000 crore, Gaganyaan is a “national mission” that will send four specially chosen and trained male test pilots from the Indian Air Force into space, Dr Nair said.

In an exclusive tour of the country’s main rocket lab, an ultra-secure facility, NDTV was given glimpses of the crew module – in which the four pilot-astronauts will travel into space – and the service module – which will be attached to the former, and the space suits that they will wear.

The crew module, Dr Nair said, is a little over 10 feet in diameter and is configured for three people, but this can be adjusted depending on mission requirements. The space suits were purchased from the Russians as part of a deal to buy the seats, which follow the ‘cradle’ philosophy, he said.

On the test pilots themselves, Dr Nair said, “You know… since they are from the Air Force, they are close to astronauts in terms of key attributes, like quick response time, and have responded well to tests like centrifuge, which subjects them to higher acceleration forces.”

“They are now an astronaut training centre for 13 months for training on survivability in different conditions, and then will be subject to parabolic flight tests. Then they will go to Bengaluru, where a Human Space Flight Centre is set up and will get more training, including physical training.”

The four pilot-astronauts – dubbed ‘India’s Fantastic 4’ – were revealed to the country by Prime Minister Narendra Modi last week; they are Group Captain Prasanth Balakrishnan Nair, Group Captain Ajit Krishnan, Group Captain Angad Pratap and Wing Commander Shubhanshu Shukla.

READ | India’s Fantastic 4: Meet Gaganyaan Astronauts Named By PM

Their training will also include academic courses and detailed instruction on Gaganyaan flight systems, as well as yoga, sources at ISRO, India’s space agency, told NDTV.

READ | Gravity, Flying Practice, Yoga: Training For Gaganyaan Astronauts

Earlier all four also received training at Russia’s Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre.

Dr Nair also explained why no women will be part of this historic space flight – because pilot-astronauts are drawn from the ranks of Air Force test pilots. At the time, India has no women in that role.

NDTV Explains | Why No Woman Among 4 Pilots Chosen For Gaganyaan Mission

“When I was HSFC (Human Space Flight Centre) Director, we put this idea to the Air Force. But unfortunately, there were then no women test then. Now, I understand there are women test pilots and I hope they will soon join us,” he said.

Meanwhile, NDTV also met Vyommitra – the robotic (female) humanoid that will fly into space for a test flight ahead of the mission. The launch of Vyommitra – whose name comes from Sanskrit words meaning ‘space’ (‘vyom‘) and ‘friend’ (‘mitra‘) – may be in the third quarter of this year.

READ | Robot Astronaut Vyommitra To Simulate Human Functions In Space

Overall, work is on at full pace for the Gaganyaan mission, which will cost about Rs 9,000 crore, with the four test pilots undergoing special training and the launch vehicle now humanrated, which means its ability to safely carry and return its human occupants has been evaluated and confirmed.

Before the manned flight, though, there must be at least two successful unmanned flights, the first of which, if all goes well, will take place by the middle of, or end of, this year, NDTV was told.

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