Gaganyaan: Astronaut training takes vertical leap

Air Chief Marshal R K S Bhadauria, Chief of the Air Staff test flies the newly developed HAL HTT-40 basic trainer, with HAL's chief test pilot Group Captain (retired) K K Venugopal, sitting in front. (DH Photo)

With the completion of the first level of astronaut training, the Indian astronaut training programme is set to enter an arduous new phase, senior military officials said. 

“Out of the sixteen verticals which have been set up to select the astronauts who will be an integral part of the Gaganyaan manned space mission, the first vertical has been completed, which is the completion of astronaut selection,” explained Air Commodore Anupam Agarwal, commandant of the Institute of Indian Aviation Medicine. “The following 15 verticals will be much more challenging.” 

The commandant was speaking at the launch of the 58th annual conference organised by the Institute Society of Aerospace Medicine on Thursday. 

These verticals, according to Air Marshal M S Butola, Director General of Medical Services (Air), will address pressing technical and space-survival challenges such as aeromedical consultancy for the design of the module system, the design of life support systems, plus mission-specific training. 

Out of 60 astronaut candidates initially chosen, the field has now been culled to 12, following rigorous testing at the Institute of Aerospace Medicine on Old Airport Road, but this is not the end of the road, Agarwal said. 

These dozen astronauts (or Gaganyatris, as Butola called them), who have cleared the first level of training, are going to Russia for a preliminary selection. The first batch was reported to have gone to Russia two weeks ago and is set to return soon, according to a source. 

Butola added that while India already has some expertise in gearing up astronauts for space, owing to the training required to get the then Squadron Leader Rakesh Sharma into space in 1984, the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) and the India aerospace medicine community are now in uncharted waters. 

“Make no mistake, much of what we are doing now is unprecedented. It is much more complex and time-consuming,” Butola said. He said many advanced nations attempted to put people into space, only to give up after critical failures.

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