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probes in ex­plor­ing our ce­les­tial neigh­bours to see if those en­vi­ron­ments are fit for hu­man habi­ta­tion and then be­gin our manned space pro­gramme, or, do we get started now that we have the tech ca­pa­bil­ity to do so—given the fact that In­dia has not yet lever­aged the near-earth en­vi­ron­ment for sci­ence, for which manned flights are nec­es­sary? I urge naysay­ers to think about the sci­ence be­ing per­formed on the In­ter­na­tional Space Sta­tion (ISS).

Isro will soon com­mence the se­lec­tion process for the three as­tro­nauts for Ga­ganyaan, which would also in­clude a woman. How do you view the rep­re­sen­ta­tion of women in space ex­plo­ration back then and has it changed over the years? Dur­ing the early days, the US and erst­while Soviet Union were busy notch­ing up “firsts” and in that scheme of things, the “first fe­male in space” was a cel­e­bra- tory event. Now that con­sid­er­able sci­en­tific re­search ac­tiv­ity is be­ing con­ducted by hu­mans in the near-earth or­bit, we find fe­male re­searchers form­ing a part of the work­force de­pend­ing on the kind of re­search be­ing car­ried out at a given point of time. That a woman would be a part of the first Ga­ganyaan mis­sion is hy­po­thet­i­cal right now. The se­lec­tion com­mit­tee will choose the most pro­fes­sion­ally suited crew as de­manded by the mis­sion’s ob­jec­tives.

Space ex­plo­ration has taken a tremen­dous tech­no­log­i­cal leap. In­dia as a de­vel­op­ing na­tion has been rec­og­nized glob­ally for how it has econ­o­mized its mis­sions, which have been com­par­a­tively low-cost com­pared with other coun­tries. How do you view this strat­egy in light of space mis­sions glob­ally?

I would say that in this re­spect we are ahead of the game. With space ex­plo­ration pick­ing up, low-cost ac­cess to space will be re­quired and I be­lieve that Isro will be the go-to agency that would pro­vide value for this kind of ac­tiv­ity.

The as­tro­naut se­lec­tion and train­ing process for such mis­sions is con­sid­ered to be ex­tremely rig­or­ous. What was the most chal­leng­ing part of your train­ing? What are the key pa­ram­e­ters space or­ga­ni­za­tions con­sider while se­lect­ing as­tro­nauts for such mis­sions?

(above, from left) Mem­bers of the Soviet-in­dian space crew, Gen­nady Strekalov, Rakesh Sharma and Yury Maly­shev, at the Ga­garin Cos­mo­naut Train­ing Cen­tre; and the ‘Soyuz T-11’s’ dub­bing and pri­mary crew mem­bers meet the then In­dian de­fence min­is­ter Ra­maswamy Venkatara­man.

Cos­mo­naut Rakesh Sharma in gear.

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