India’s first human space flight, scheduled to be launched sometime in the second half of 2021, will, most likely, have at least one woman astronaut on board. Chairman of Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) K Sivan told The Indian Express that women candidates would be actively considered, although he would not like to pre-judge the selection process which was still to start.
“We, of course, would like to have women also to be there (on the space flight). You would remember our Prime Minister had mentioned son or daughter while announcing the human space flight. It would be very good if a woman is part of the first flight. But these things are still to be discussed and finalised. The selection process (for choosing the astronauts) has not started yet,” Sivan said.
“There are many criteria to be fulfilled (for selection of astronauts). The Air Force, which will provide the candidates, would be part of the entire process. The selection process is long and maybe it is still a bit early to talk about these things with finality,” he said.
About 60 women have so far have made journey into space, out of a total of more than 550 astronauts, including India-born Kalpana Chawla who died in the Columbia accident in 2003.
For the human space flight, ISRO is building a spacecraft that can accommodate up to three astronauts and can remain in space for up to seven days. But Sivan hinted that the first flight may not be full.
“For the first flight, there could be lesser number (of astronauts) going. That is the general feature. We are not going to stuff the spacecraft with people,” he said.
“We will have a capacity of three astronauts for the first flight. But before the mission is finalised, we will have to decide how many astronauts would finally go and how many days they would remain in space, whether for seven days or just two or three days. All these would depend on the criticality of the mission,” he said.
Sivan said up to 10 candidates from the Indian Air Force could be shortlisted for the training which will go on for about a year and a half.
“The selection and the training would be a parallel process. It is not like we select the astronauts first and then put them through training. Maybe about 10 candidates would be picked from a big list of people and all of them would undergo training. From them, the final one or two or three would be selected,” he said.
Sivan said the training would be conducted at facilities within India and abroad. “Many countries have shown up their hands (to provide training facilities). Russia, the French agency and others. All the space agencies have been very very cooperative. They are willing to help us out with the training,” the ISRO chairman said.
He ruled out any ISRO scientist boarding the first spacecraft. A few years ago, when the human space flight had just been proposed, ISRO and the Air Force had made competing claims over who could be on board.
“There would be no one from ISRO on the spacecraft. All candidates would be from the Indian Air Force,” Sivan said.
The ISRO chairman said the first step in the Gaganyaan mission was to set up a management structure in place, which he said would be done within 10 days.
“Right now, we do not have a mission team. Some scientists have been asked to start working on the design of the Gaganyaan project. There is an informal team to keep the activities going on. But by this week, or maximum within ten days, we will have the management structure ready to steer the project,” he said.