"It's not just an ISRO project, it's a na­tional one"

In an exclusive in­ter­view, ISRO chair­man DR K. SIVAN tells Group Ed­i­to­rial Di­rec­tor RAJ CHEN­GAPPA about the nuts and bolts of In­dia’s first manned space mis­sion. Ex­cerpts:

India Today - - COVER STORY -

Q.In­dia will be the fourth na­tion af­ter the US, Rus­sia and China to launch a manned space mis­sion. What’s so spe­cial about send­ing a man into space? Why are we do­ing it—isn’t it a bit like rein­vent­ing the wheel? A.

Ac­tu­ally, it’s not sim­ply about send­ing a man into space. The en­tire coun­try’s un­der­stand­ing of sci­ence and tech­nol­ogy will rise. It will in­spire young­sters to do some­thing new and en­cour­age them to par­tic­i­pate in sci­ence pro­grammes. This par­tic­u­lar project has many in­sti­tu­tions and in­dus­tries as­so­ci­ated with it. In that sense, it is not just an ISRO project, but a na­tional one. Ev­ery In­dian agency in­volved can show­case its skills and the na­tion can be proud that, in sci­ence and tech­nol­ogy, we are equal to the de­vel­oped coun­tries.

Q. What are the big chal­lenges ISRO has to over­come?

A.

What­ever tech­nol­ogy we have is about launch­ing satel­lites. But when we launch a hu­man, apart from the engineering and tech­ni­cal as­pects, the hu­man el­e­ment, life sciences, also come in. We have to en­sure that the hu­man in­side the mod­ule is safe and all con­di­tions are sim­i­lar to those on Earth. Sim­u­lat­ing such con­di­tions and cre­at­ing such an en­vi­ron­ment is a chal­lenge for us, it is new to us. We have

al­ready tried some of these ac­tiv­i­ties, such as en­vi­ron­ment con­trol and life sup­port sys­tems. We have also done a lot of stud­ies on space suits. Now we need to en­hance it.

Q. What kind of train­ing will be needed for an as­tro­naut and who will be el­i­gi­ble?

A.

It is not nec­es­sary that he or she be a fighter pi­lot. Any­body can go, pro­vided they are psy­cho­log­i­cally, phys­i­cally and men­tally fit. Of course, the en­durance of fighter pi­lots will be bet­ter than that of oth­ers. But we are work­ing on how to se­lect and train them. The In­sti­tute of Aerospace Medicine in Bengaluru has the fa­cil­i­ties for train­ing as­tro­nauts. They had done a sim­i­lar thing for Rakesh Sharma. But we will need more rig­or­ous train­ing and may have to build ca­pac­i­ties for that. Given the tar­get set by the prime min­is­ter, 2022, we may need in­ter­na­tional col­lab­o­ra­tion and the use of out­side fa­cil­i­ties and sys­tems.

Q. What about the rocket launcher to boost the capsule into or­bit?

A.

We al­ready have the ca­pa­bil­i­ties for this. Our GSLV Mark III heavy lift launcher is ca­pa­ble of lift­ing 10 tonnes of pay­load into or­bit, whereas our space or­biter will weigh only around seven tonnes. While launch­ing reg­u­lar satel­lites, our main cri­te­ria is max­i­mum pay­load. But for the manned mis­sion, max­i­mum safety mat­ters more. So the launch ve­hi­cle sys­tem has to be a hu­man-rated ver­sion and we will en­sure it is fail­safe.

Q. You also need to have an es­cape sys­tem for the crew in case of fail­ure dur­ing the launch. A.

We have al­ready built and tested the crew es­cape sys­tem. It’s not only dur­ing the launch, if there is an ex­i­gency or dan­ger to the as­tro­nauts at any time dur­ing the flight, the mod­ule will be ejected from the launch ve­hi­cle, away from the dan­ger zone. This in­volves quick-re­act­ing solid mo­tors and a sys­tem to sta­bilise the ve­hi­cle. We have also tested the mod­ule for re-en­try and re­cov­ery af­ter splash­down into the sea, in­clud­ing pro­tect­ing it from high tem­per­a­tures and pres­sures when it re-en­ters the at­mos­phere on its re­turn.

Q. Are you plan­ning to test the or­biter with an un­manned mis­sion first? A.

We want to do a cou­ple of end-toend tests be­fore we launch the or­biter with as­tro­nauts. We will have two re­hearsal flights to test the en­vi­ron­ment and life-sup­port sys­tems as well as pro­tec­tion from ex­treme tem­per­a­ture and pres­sure vari­a­tions, apart from ga­lac­tic cos­mic rays and mi­cro-me­te­orites that may im­pact the or­biter. We will also do a splash­down of the or­biter. We have to en­sure ev­ery­thing is per­fect.

Q. What is the to­tal cost of this project? Will it cost less than what other na­tions spent?

A.

It will be Rs 10,000 crore. This is not very high. That is be­cause al­most all the crit­i­cal tech­nol­ogy has been de­vel­oped by us. The ve­hi­cle is also al­ready avail­able. Our only re­main­ing job is to build a train­ing fa­cil­ity and in­fra­struc­ture for the launch.

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