The training of the four test pilots of the Indian Air Force who have been selected for the Gaganyaan mission is scheduled to start this month, Jitendra Singh, minister of state, Prime Ministers Office, who also holds the space portfolio, said. The training will take place in Russia and will last for 11 months. After this intensive training, the astronauts will complete the training on the module back in India.
The India leg of the module training will include learning everything about the crew and service modules designed by Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). The space vehicle that ISRO has designed comprises of a crew module, which will house the astronaut, and a service module, which is the uninhabited part of the spacecraft that has the instrumentation and equipment like oxygen tanks. The service module gets separated from the crew module at the end of the mission and usually burns out in the atmosphere.
The prototype of Gaganyaan which ISRO made public is similar to the Russian designs. Russia was not only the pioneer in space travel, but as of date, it is the only country which has the capability of sending astronauts to the International Space Station. China has also sent 14 people to space, some to its own space station, Tiangong 2, since 2003. Its last human space flight was in 2016. The design of its spacecraft also resembles the Russian one. However, China's space programme remains insular.
The Gaganyaan mission comprises of three flights, the first two unmanned. The first of the flights is scheduled for the end of this year. The human flight is aimed for 2022, to coincide with the 75 anniversary of India's independence. ISRO chairman K. Sivan recently said that only one astronaut would fly on this debut flight. This is as per international tradition. Even erstwhile USSR sent only one space traveller, Yuri Gagarin, on the maiden flight.
Previously, it was believed that the crew would comprise three men. ISRO had said the module was being designed to carry three. The announcement that there would be only one astronaut was made just a few days ago. Four men, however, will undergo all the training. These were recently selected from the ten who were initially identified last year. Their identities, however, cannot be revealed, said the government. ISRO set up the Human Space Flight Centre in January 2019 for end-to-end training for human space flight missions. There was much speculation when Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced in 2018 that a son or daughter of India would go to space by 2022. Given the boost Modi has provided to women, like all-women parade contingents at Republic Day and training women as fighter pilots, there was speculation that at least one of the astronauts might be a woman. But since initial crews are generally selected from a pool of test pilots and India has no women in this cadre yet, the choice was only men. Sivan, however, has told this correspondent that while the criterion is rather rigid for the debut flight, once there is an established programme, several others could get the opportunity to fly—men and women both, and from varied professions.
The government has sanctioned Rs 10,000 crore for Gaganyaan. Organisations across the country are working on various aspects of the mission, from instrumentation to crew equipment, food to fuel. ISRO had a prototype of the space suit ready, which was designed internally. However, this being the first flight, it has decided to go with a Russian made space suit now. The bio vest, which will monitor the astronaut's vital statistics continuously, however is being designed by the Defence Research Development Organisation.