India’s plan to put a human in space is just one decision away from being made a reality. In an exclusive interview, K Sivan, chairman of space research organisation ISRO said several of the critical technologies are already in place, including a crew module and a crew escape system. A prototype space suit has also been developed.
“ISRO is readying critical technologies for Indian human space programme. If the government wants, the Indian astronaut programme can be launched,” said Mr Sivan. Completing all arrangements, however, could take several years, he said.
Till now, only Russia, US and China have been able to conduct independent human space missions.
ISRO has already carved out a niche in the commercial satellite launch market and has devised the cheapest successful Mars mission — Mangalyaan. A human space mission appears to be the next big step.
With eye on an entirely indigenous effort to send an Indian to space, the ISRO had sought Rs. 12,500 crore from the government almost ten years ago. But till date it has only been a dribble with just Rs 173 crore being made available for critical technology development.
Signaling a go slow, Jitendra Singh, the minister in charge of India’s space programmes, had told parliament in 2016 that “as of now, manned space programme is not an approved programme”.
Still, ISRO had been steadily working on the astronaut programme, developing over the last few years not only a crew module and an escape system — that would help the spacecraft after it enters the atmosphere, but also a prototype space suit. It is the life support system that needs huge attention and astronaut training facilities.
The Crew Module was flight tested in 2014 during an experimental mission of GSLV. It had successfully re-entered Earth and was recovered.
The crew escape system was tested last month at a test facility in Sriharikota. It will next be tested on flight, scientists had told reporters.
The only Indian to have ventured out in space is Rakesh Sharma, a former Air Force pilot who was part of a Russian mission in 1984. Asked how India looked from up there, he had famously told then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, “Saare Jahan se accaha”.