Gajanian: India names astronauts for first space flight

  • Written by Geeta Pandey
  • BBC News, Delhi

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The designated astronauts received their “wings” on Tuesday

India has unveiled four Air Force pilots who have been shortlisted to fly on the country's first spaceflight scheduled for next year.

Gajanyan's mission aims to send three astronauts into a 400-kilometre orbit and return them three days later.

The Indian space agency ISRO conducted a number of tests to prepare for the flight.

In October, a key test showed that the crew could safely escape the rocket if it malfunctioned.

After its success, Isro said that a test flight would take the robot into space in 2024, before sending astronauts into space in 2025.

At an event held at the ISRO Center in the southern city of Thiruvananthapuram (formerly Trivandrum) on Tuesday, the four appointed astronauts were described as “dreamers, adventurers and brave men preparing to go into space.”

The officers selected were from the Indian Air Force foot Group Captain Prashanth Balakrishnan Nair, Group Captain Ajit Krishnan, Group Captain Angad Pratap and Wing Commander Shubhanshu Shukla represented the team.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and ISRO chief S Somanath pinned badges with golden wings on their shirts, with Modi calling them “the pride of India”.

“These are not just four names or four people. They are four forces that will carry the aspirations of 1.4 billion Indians into space. I congratulate them and wish them all the best,” he said.

The men were selected from a pool of Air Force pilots and underwent extensive physical and psychological tests before being shortlisted, officials said.

They have undergone rigorous training for 13 months in Russia and now continue their grueling schedule back home. A video shown at the event showed them working out in the gym, swimming and doing yoga.

Image source, Screenshot from Doordarshan

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Isro's Vyomitra is a humanoid female

On Tuesday, Isro also showed off a glimpse of Vyumitra – a Sanskrit word meaning “space friend” – the female human who will be sent into space later this year.

The Gaganyaan mission is India's first human spaceflight programme, and extensive preparations are being made for it at various ISRO centres.

The Gajanyaan project is named after the Sanskrit word meaning a craft or vehicle to the sky, and was developed at a cost of 90 billion rupees ($1 billion; £897 million).

If successful, India will become the fourth country to send a human into space after the Soviet Union, the United States and China.

Gajanyan has generated a lot of interest in India, even though it comes decades after the Soviet Union and the United States began conducting flights to low Earth orbit. Both have been in space since 1961. China became the third country to reach space in October 2003 when a Chinese mission spent 21 hours and orbited the Earth 14 times. The United States and China have fully operational space stations in low Earth orbit.

An Indian astronaut also went into space as early as 1984 when Rakesh Sharma spent nearly eight days on board a Russian spacecraft.

Just weeks later, scientists launched Aditya-L1, India's first sun-observing mission which is now in orbit, to observe the most important and most volatile star in our solar system.

India also announced ambitious new space plans, saying it aims to establish a space station by 2035 and send an astronaut to the moon by 2040.

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