Not withstanding a snag affecting the performance of India’s maiden lunar mission Chandrayaan-1 launched in October 2008, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) is going ahead with India’s first manned mission slated for launch in 2015. In the international political and strategic context, an Indian manned flight is considered a calculated move by the country to boost its national prestige and sharpen its technological edge and scientific expertise for deep space missions including a possible lunar human landing by 2020. G Madhavan Nair, Chairman, ISRO has consistently stressed the need to sustain India’s leadership position in space by taking up challenging missions of national relevance. Nair has observed, ”[a]s far as space is concerned, India can be described as a developed country.”
Western space analysts believe India’s manned flight, which at the current reckoning is expected to cost the country a whopping Rs.12,400 million, is a reaction to China’s strides in manned flights including a space walk in 2008. There is no denying the fact that the successful accomplishment of this mission would make India the fourth country - after the US, Russia and China - to send a man into space. Meanwhile, Iran whose nuclear and missile development programme has stirred a global controversy, has hinted at launching its manned mission by 2021.Surprisingly Japan, the first Asian country to launch a satellite in1970, could not pursue its plan for a manned mission due lack of political commitment and funding support .
Defence experts are of the view that India’s manned mission could boost country’s expertise in developing advanced missile defense systems. However, on a more strategic plane, the manned flight would help ISRO master a host of frontier technologies that are a zealously guarded secret by space-faring nations. For instance, ISRO will be developing the technology of spacesuits worn by the astronauts on its own. “We need to develop a lot of new technologies to build a life support system, a space capsule with safety features to survive and a recovery mission to complete the mission,” says Nair. Developing a spacesuit capable of withstanding extreme conditions in outer space including radiation poses a stiff engineering challenge.
As envisaged now, the Indian manned mission would involve the launch of two- or three-member crew onboard a three tonne space capsule into a low earth orbit of around 300km followed by the safe return on completion of the mission. The Indian orbital vehicle will be launched from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre (SDSC) in Sriharikota, located about 100kms north of Chennai. A three-stage GSLV (Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) with an upper cryogenic engine stage will be used for orbiting the crew vehicle. To support this mission, a third launch pad complete with facilities for entering into the crew capsule and escape chute is being set up at SDSC. ISRO which considers this mission to be a national endeavor would tap the human expertise, scientific talent and technological infrastructure available in the country to realize this project.
ISRO had released the concept design of the Indian crew vehicle in February 2009. However, it has not yet made public the roadmap it would adopt for building this crew vehicle. ISRO has virtually no experience in the area of building a manned orbital vehicle. As such it is speculated that ISRO will fall back on the technology of the Russian Soyuz spacecraft for building the Indian crew vehicle. .As part of the Indo-Russian space pact signed in March 2008, Russia has offered to assist India in its human flight mission. Russia has also offered to fly an Indian astronaut onboard its Soyuz spaceship to the International Space Station (ISS) by 2013. Back in 1984, Squadron Leader Rakesh Sharma of the Indian Air Force (IAF) had flown abroad the Russian Soyuz spaceship to become the first Indian to go into space.
While interacting with media persons in New Delhi on 27 May former IAF chief, Air Marshal FH Major had said that IAF personnel will definitely be onboard India’s manned mission. However, ISRO has not yet come out with the details of the astronauts who will form part of the mission. To facilitate the training of astronauts, ISRO in tie up with the Bangalore-based Institute of Aviation Medicine (IAM), a part of the IAF, will be setting up a Rs.10 billion astronaut training facility on the outskirts of the city. This facility will be equipped with a radiation simulator chamber to help the astronaut candidates handle radiation from the sun, a centrifuge to enable maneuvers in space, a zero-gravity simulator to familiarize the astronauts with the conditions in space and hardware meant to train astronauts fly the spaceship .
The Indian manned mission is considered a dilution of the original philosophy of the Indian space program as envisaged by its architect Vikram Sarabhai. He was for utilizing the fruits of space technology for national development rather than going in for space spectaculars like planetary probes and manned flights. Nevertheless, in the context of India’s emergence as an economic and technological powerhouse, the manned space flight is considered a natural progression of its growing space prowess and a reflection of its national aspirations.