Indian Astronauts to Begin Training in Russia, Chandrayaan-3 Approved

Indian Astronauts to Begin Training in Russia, Chandrayaan-3 Approved

Four astronauts from India will begin training in Russia this month according to the head of India’s space agency.  India has not officially said when the first crewed mission will take place, but India’s Prime Minister set a goal of 2022 and an uncrewed test flight is planned this year.  India also has approved sending another lander/rover to the Moon to complete the tasks unfilled by Chandrayaan-2 in 2019.

K. Sivan, Chairperson of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), laid out those and other plans for 2020 and beyond during a press conference on New Year’s Day.

ISRO Chairperson K Sivan addresses the media, January 1, 2020. Screengrab from Doordarshan TV, India’s public broadcast service.

In August 2018, Indian Prime Minister Narenda Modi formally approved India’s current plan for human spaceflight.  He set a deadline of 2022, the 75th anniversary of India’s independence, to launch Indian astronauts into space from India.

Sivan did not mention that date today, saying only that it will happen “very soon,” but announced that four astronauts have been selected and will begin training in Russia in the third week of this month. All four are from the Indian Air Force.

Russia’s TASS news agency confirmed the agreement to train the Indian astronauts today and said the flight is planned for 2021.

India’s first and to date only astronaut was Rakesh Sharma, who flew on the Soviet Union’s Soyuz T-11 mission in 1984.  Others with roots in India have flown in space, including Kalpana Chawla who was born in India and immigrated to the United States after college.  She perished in the 2003 space shuttle Columbia tragedy.  NASA astronaut Sunita Williams’ father, Deepak Pandya, was born in India and immigrated to the United States, where she was born.  Williams has made two spaceflights and will command the first Post Certification Mission of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner.

India’s human spaceflight program, Gaganyaan (Sky Vehicle in  Sanskrit), envisions launching a capsule accommodating two or three astronauts into Earth orbit via an Indian GSLV rocket for a mission of about a week.

Sivan said an uncrewed test flight with an instrumented test dummy will take place this year.

The other big news is that the Indian government has approved building a second lunar lander/rover, Chandrayaan-3.  It will complete the lunar surface tasks planned for Chandrayaan-2, whose lander/rover, Vikram/Pragyan, crashed in September 2019.  The Chandrayaan-2 mission included a lunar orbiter and it is working fine.  ISRO will use it for Chandrayann-3, as well,  so a new orbiter is not required.

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