IAF personnel to be on first manned space mission

March 16th, 2009 - 10:41 am ICT by IANS  

ISRO By Ritu Sharma
New Delhi, March 16 (IANS) When India’s first manned space mission takes off, likely in 2017, it will have Indian Air Force (IAF) personnel on board.

The IAF is to train two of its personnel for the mission, in collaboration with the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), said a senior IAF official. The proposed manned space mission follows India’s successful lunar probe launch last year.

The manned space mission will carry a two-member IAF crew - becoming the second Indians to go into space after Squadron Leader Rakesh Sharma, who was part of the joint space programme between India and Russia in 1984.

Though the ISRO wanted one of its scientists on the mission along with an IAF pilot, the air force proposed that both should be IAF personnel.

“The crew will consist of two members. We had a meeting with the ISRO scientists and they insisted on sending one scientist and one air force pilot, but we have proposed to depute one of our engineers also with them for training till the mission happens,” a senior IAF official told IANS.

Under the ambitious $2.5 billion plan, India’s space agency has proposed to put two people into space orbit at 274 km above the earth for seven days.

For the Human Space Flight project, the IAF is also gearing up its infrastructure for training the astronauts.

“We may have an IL-76 (Russian-built Illyushin-76 transport aircraft) modified to familiarise our crew with zero gravity situation. The mission will be unique as the spacecraft will also have an ejection capsule which would help the crew eject safely in time of emergency,” the official added.

If the mission takes off, India will be the fourth country - after the US, Russia and China - to send a manned space mission. India is not the only Asian country in the new space race - Iran recently announced that it will attempt a manned space flight by 2021.

Dismissing the criticism of the huge costs involved in India’s proposed manned mission, another senior IAF official listed its military advantages. He said the space mission will help India acquire ICBM (Inter-Continental Ballistic Missile) capability.

“To place a spacecraft in orbit we will require a bigger rocket booster. This large rocket booster will help India acquire the ICBM (Inter-Continental Ballistic Missile) capability,” the senior official said requesting anonymity.

He also said it would boost the country’s reconnaisance capability. “To be in constant touch with the astronauts as they revolve around the earth, we will need to interlink our satellites, which in turn will boost our reconnaissance capability. Presently we are able to get 15 minutes’ feed daily from our satellites. The space mission will give us 90 minutes’ feed,” the official added.

The decision to send astronauts into space follows the launch last October of India’s first unmanned lunar mission, Chandrayaan-1, which signalled the country’s entry into an elite club of nations that have reached the moon. Chandrayaan-1 is now orbiting the moon to compile a 3-D map of its surface among other things. India is planning to launch its second unmanned lunar mission - Chandrayaan-2 - in 2011.

India’s decision to go for a manned mission into space comes in the wake of China making great strides in its space pursuits. China completed its first space walk last year, and also shot down one of its own satellites in 2007.

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