Manned mission:12 Indian astronauts to train in Russia

Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) chairperson K Sivan speaks at ninth convocation of Jain University (Deemed-to-be University) in Bengaluru on Monday. DH Photo

Isro is planning to send 12 Indian astronauts to Russia, where they will undergo 15 months of intensive training, after which four will be selected for the country’s first manned mission into space.

The training contract between Isro (Indian Space Research Organisation) and Glavkosmos, a subsidiary of the Russian state space corporation Roscosmos, was signed on June 27, said Isro chairperson K Sivan. The planned space foray, codenamed "Gaganyaan" (sky vehicle) is planned for December 2021, and could possibly include a woman astronaut.

"This is the only thing that has been agreed upon with the Russians. All other things, such as crew seats and astronaut suits are still in the negotiation phase," Sivan said. He was speaking as a chief guest at the Jain University’s convocation ceremony in Bengaluru on August 26.

The Isro chairman added that the training will be conducted at the Yuri Gagarin Space Centre in Star City during which candidates will be put through the paces.

During his address to students, he briefly alluded to the ongoing Chandrayaan-2 mission, saying that the agency was on tenterhooks on a daily basis because of the challenges involved. "Only 37% of soft landings have ever been successful on the moon," he said and echoed a phrase familiar to legions of Star Trek fans: "We are going where no one has gone before."

The crux of the chairman’s speech, however, was about the challenges of becoming successful professionally, which appeared to strike a chord with the assembled students especially after Sivan clarified his own challenges in academia.

"At every stage in life, I was always denied my first choice academically. After high school, I wanted to study engineering, but ended up studying BSc mathematics. Later, when I finally managed to get into an engineering university, I wanted to join the aeronautical group, but ended up in another project. I learned a valuable lesson, however: life is often not about making the best choices, it is about making the best of the opportunities given to you," he said, to thunderous applause from students.

However, he added that it was also important for students to forge their own path in life, citing the high failure rate among startups in Bengaluru as being emblematic of many people trying to do the same thing, and using the same methods.

"We can take inspiration from leaders, but don’t try to emulate them. You may get inspired by A P J Abdal Kalam, but don’t try to emulate Kalam by adopting his hairstyle. You won’t go anywhere," he said to peals of laughter from the crowd.

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