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SOURCE: Hindustan Times

Four astronauts selected for the country’s first human spaceflight will return from Russia in March and undergo training modules designed by the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) for the mission slated for December 2021.

While in Russia, their training is helping them get accustomed to conditions in space — the US, Russia and China are the only three countries to have conducted human spaceflights — the four astronauts will undergo mission-specific training back home.

“The four astronauts, who had been selected from a pool of Indian Air Force pilots, are currently undergoing basic training in GCTC (Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre) in Russia. They will be back by March next year. They will then receive specific training in India, for which the simulators have been defined. These are the areas where the industry will be contributing in a rich way to realise the simulators,” Dr Unnikrishnan Nair, director, Human Spaceflight Centre of Isro, said.

There will be three main parts to the training in India: a module on the overall project, a module for crew members, and a module on the flight hardware and software.

“Each one is more and more complex (than the previous one),” he said at the International Space Conference and Exhibition organised by Confederation of Indian Industry in association with Isro and its other arms.

India’s first human spaceflight mission, Gaganyaan, has been designed to carry three Indian astronauts to the low earth orbit — an orbit of 2,000km or less — for a period of five to seven days.

But Isro chairperson Dr K Sivan told HT earlier this year that two unmanned flights prior to the final mission will determine whether just one or two crew members will be taken to space and whether the crew will be there for the entire duration, or for just one day, or just over two hours.

Isro has planned the first unmanned flight in December 2020, the second in July 2021, and the first human spaceflight mission in December 2021 — much ahead of the August 15, 2022, deadline set by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. However, the timeline could be affected due to the Covid-19 pandemic, according to officials.

Before the first unmanned flight, Isro needs to complete at least three major tests — an air drop test for the parachute system that will demonstrate the ability to successfully recover an orbiting space capsule; a flight of the test vehicle; and an abort test to demonstrate the escape of the crew in case of an emergency at the launch pad.

Isro has also shortlisted six experiments that will be carried out in space aboard the first unmanned flight under the Gaganyaan mission. This includes four biological experiments – a study on changes in kidney stone formation in drosophila melanogaster (the common fruit fly), the study of SIRT1 gene in it, microbial contamination, and co-crystallisation under microgravity conditions.

Nair said Gaganyaan will be the first of Isro’s human spaceflight mission, which will be expanded to the exploration of other planets and also the moon in the future. For this, Isro will partner with the industry and academia to develop technologies such as construction in space, tele-robotics and artificial intelligence.