Gaganyaan: Training for astronaut candidates begins in Russia, but still no women test pilots who 'qualify'?

In May this year, ISRO and the IAF signed an MoU to cooperate in selection and training of the crew for the Gaganyaan mission.


Only 16 or so months to go till the Indian Space Research Organisation's first human spaceflight mission Gaganyaan takes off with a crew of three Indian astronauts to orbit the Earth for seven days. The training for this group of astronauts has reportedly begun in Russia, with a selection of promising candidates chosen from among experienced Indian Air Force test pilots.

Kicking off the 'Citizen Familiarisation Programme' at the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC) campus to an audience of senior citizens during Space Week 2019 (4-10 October), the Director S Somanath shared that the mission to low-Earth orbit 300 to 400 kilometres from the surface would also have an effective Crew Escape System. This system is an emergency escape measure that allows astronauts to quickly put themselves and the crew module a good distance away from the rocket if the launch needs to be aborted at any stage. Multiple tests for every stage and aspect of the Gaganyaan mission are underway and in different stages of progress, he added.

Gaganyaan: Training for astronaut candidates begins in Russia, but still no women test pilots who qualify?

The ISRO space suit for astronauts in the Gaganyaan mission, displayed at the Bengaluru Space Expo. Image: Twitter/Nagarjun Dwarkanath

The VSSC Chief also spoke of how substantially the Indian space program has contributed to the nation's overall economic development, and met many requirements in defence, agriculture, weather forecasting and industrial development over the years, with new technologies expanding their usefulness as new technologies are developed.

One aspect of the astronaut selection for Gaganyaan on which no officials have elaborated is the lack of women test pilots in consideration. The inaugural flight of India's mission to space is unlikely to have a woman astronaut because the space agency is looking to choose test pilots from the armed forces — a post that doesn't have any women serving in them, a senior ISRO official said.

"Most maiden missions undertaken by different countries in the past had test pilots. So we are sticking to that for our maiden mission. We are also looking at test pilots from the armed forces which don''t have woman as test pilots," the official said. "The civilians will be part of the project in future missions."

AVM RGK Kapoor, ACAS Ops (Space), IAF handed over the MoU to Shri R Hutton, Project Director of Gaganyaan Programme. Image credit: Twitter/IAF

AVM RGK Kapoor, ACAS Ops (Space), IAF handed over the MoU to Shri R Hutton, Project Director of Gaganyaan Programme. Image credit: Twitter/IAF

On May 2019, ISRO and IAF signed an MoU to cooperate in the crew selection and training of astronauts for the Gaganyaan mission. Gaganyaan is going to be India’s first-ever manned mission to space. It will send three astronauts for seven days and the spacecraft will be placed in a low-earth orbit of around 300-400 km.

Before sending the astronauts, two unmanned missions will be conducted by ISRO. The GSLV Mk III, the three-stage heavy-lift launch vehicle, will be used to launch Gaganyaan as it has the necessary payload capability.

The Human Space Flight Centre in Bengaluru will be looking at all the activities about the mission along with the Institute of Aerospace Medicine.

(Also read:: Gaganyaan: Russia to train Indian cosmonauts, offer semi-cryogenic engine technology)

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