US astronaut training will aid Gaganyaan preparations. ISRO chief

S Somanath, the chairperson of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), said Thursday that the training Indian astronauts receive in the United States for a proposed flight to the International Space Station will aid in preparations for the Gaganyaan manned mission. The training is part of a recently signed agreement between India and the United States.

The agreement was signed during Narendra Modi’s recent trip to the United States. There was a statement about India and the United States collaborating on human spaceflight to the International Space Station. This particular activity is something that the United States desires, and India also finds it beneficial for the Indian space programme because once an Indian prepares for a mission to the International Space Station, they will undergo a training programme in the United States, and upon their return, they will discuss the training and skills they received, which will aid in the design of Gaganyaan, Somanath explained.

To safeguard the safety of the astronauts, ISRO has postponed the Gaganyaan mission from 2022 to late 2024 or early 2025. Previously, ISRO had set a target date of 2022 for the mission.

The ISRO chairman, who spoke to the media on Thursday in Bengaluru on the sidelines of a G20 meeting of space economy leaders, indicated that the Gaganyaan programme sought more expertise to ensure that the spacecraft was adequately designed and safe for astronauts to launch. Somanath refuted claims that Indian astronauts will first travel to the ISS on a US mission before attempting a Gaganyaan mission.

“We have not executed a contract or MOU on this matter. There have been discussions at the highest level regarding the possibility of a trained Indian astronaut flying to the International Space Station. This much has been determined at the highest level, and we must now determine the specifics in the coming days. NASA and ISRO will ratify an agreement in this regard, according to the ISRO chairman.

“I expect that the agreement will specify how many people will be trained, how many will fly to the ISS, and what kind of technical and scientific collaboration will occur as part of this agreement. Somanath stated, “We are in the process of resolving these issues, and we are in contact with NASA and discussing it on multiple levels.”

Earlier in June, the ISRO chairman stated that safety-first had become the top priority of the plans for India’s first manned space mission and that the mission’s timeline would be determined by ISRO’s confidence in sending astronauts into space and bringing them back successfully.

“Today, we designed the Gaganyaan based solely on the experience of our lone Indian astronaut, Rakesh Sharma.” “From time to time, I must call Rakesh Sharma and enquire, ‘Sir, how is the spacecraft’s handle?’ because he is the only one who knows,” the ISRO chairman explained.

If you call someone else, nobody will speak with you. Four astronauts have undertaken training and are familiar with a portion of the design. Currently, the Gaganyaan vessel is being designed using the information provided by these individuals,” he said.

Indian astronauts from the Indian Air Force who have been training for India’s first manned mission will be able to contribute to the improved design of the Gaganyaan spacecraft for India’s first manned mission, according to Somanath.

“We must discuss (with the Indian astronauts) and determine the various aspects – how they sit, how they operate, how they dress, how they handle emergencies, how they deal with oxygen deficiency, and how they manage replacements. There are numerous issues in an environment resembling a cockpit, and if we have more and more experienced individuals, our designs will improve. ISRO’s chairman stated that collaboration with the United States is a possibility. So far, four Indian astronauts designated for the Gaganyaan mission have received training in Russian facilities.

Somanath stated on Thursday that the ISRO manned mission is more than a year away. “According to the present plan, an unmanned mission will be at the start of next year. This year will be the year of the abort missions. The proposed date for the manned mission is late 2024 or early 2025. “It depends on various other circumstances,” said the ISRO chairman.

ISRO’s chief indicated last month that the organisation has decided to adopt a cautious approach to India’s human spaceflight programme by placing the safety of the astronauts who will fly on the mission at the centre of the project, as opposed to achieving the mission by a certain date.

“We now have a new method of thinking. We believe that we should not hurry the decision. The primary goal of human spaceflight is a risk-free, certain mission. We have redefined it so that we will succeed on the very first attempt,” Somnath said last month on the margins of an international conference on Spacecraft Mission Operations regarding the proposed Gaganyaan mission.

The first human spaceflight mission was initially scheduled for 2022 to coincide with the 75th anniversary of Indian independence, but the programme was derailed by the Covid pandemic that ravaged the country between 2022 and 2021, he said.

“Due to the pandemic, we experienced a significant delay in achieving our goals, as it was not a production launch. It took one and a half years because we needed to engineer it and collaborate with the industry. Thus, we missed the deadline. We were unable to coordinate the programme with Amrith Mahotsav (75 years of Independence),” stated the ISRO chairman.

In order to attain the redefined mission objective of safety and certainty, ISRO has “substantially increased the testing and demonstration missions, which includes additional abort missions,” according to Somnath.

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