Indian scientists may look for clues on the origin of life when the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) finally sends an Indian to space.
The first human mission is still into future. But about a fortnight back, Isro invited scientists from premier research laboratories to suggest what sort of experiments are to be carried out if the government decides to send an astronaut to space.
The initial plan is to have five scientific missions, three of which would be unmanned and the remaining manned.
“Human exploration of space has merits that can't be attained through robotic experiments. In science investigations, human presence in space uniquely enables a high degree of flexibility, adaptability and decision making arising from unplanned, unexpected circumstances. Isro explores a near-term human return mission from the low earth orbit,” Isro scientific secretary P G Diwakar wrote to the scientists.
Several ideas popped up at the meeting. “All the proposals are to be scrutinised by the Advisory Committee on Space Sciences. Only when ADCOS submits its report, we will take up the programme as a mission,” Isro chairman K Sivan told DH. Most of the experiments may be biological. In all possibility, there will be studies on the behaviour and growth of bacteria and extremophiles (organisms that survive under extreme conditions) under zero gravity and under cosmic radiation field.
“Experiments can be conducted on the origin of life, which is a big question in science – if life was originated on the Earth or it was imported from outer space,” commented Sujan Sengupta, a scientist at the Indian Institute of Astrophysics and one of the participants of the Isro meeting.
Another set of experiments under discussion are on human physiology such as how the digestion system works under zero gravity conditions.
After its success with Moon, Mars and deep space (Astrosat) missions, the space agency revived its old plan of sending human beings to space. Discussed almost 12 years ago, the idea of sending an Indian to space was shelved in the absence of right kind of technology and high cost.
Way back in November 2006, nearly 80 scientists from all over the country discussed the possibility of a human space mission.
The scientists felt while Isro was mature in many technologies required for a manned space mission, developments are required in life support systems, improved reliability and safety and crew escape system. While some of the facilities required are available in the country a few have to be established afresh. The preliminary cost for a manned space mission was estimated nearly Rs 10,000 crore spread over 8 years.