India’s manned space mission will have IAF men


New Delhi : When India’s first manned mission to space takes off, possibly in 2017, it will have Indian Air Force (IAF) personnel on board.

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“Let me promise you one thing, if there is a (Indian) man on moon (read space), it will be from the Indian Air Force,” IAF chief Air Chief Marshal Fali Homi Major told reporters here.

According to sources, the IAF is to train two of its personnel for the mission, in collaboration with the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). The proposed manned mission will follow India’s successful lunar probe launch last year.

Major added that the IAF’s Institute for Aerospace Medicine is working closely with the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) on the project.

The mission is likely to carry a two-member IAF crew. India’s Squadron Leader Rakesh Sharma, who was part of the joint space programme between India and the erstwhile Soviet Union in 1984, was the first Indian to go into space.

Though ISRO wanted one of its scientists on the mission along with an IAF pilot, the air force proposed that both should be IAF personnel.

“The crew will consist of two members. We had a meeting with the ISRO scientists and they insisted on sending one scientist and one air force pilot, but we have proposed to depute one of our engineers also with them for training till the mission happens,” a senior IAF official told IANS requesting anonymity.

Under the ambitious $2.5 billion plan, India’s space agency has proposed to put two people into space orbit at 274 km above the earth for seven days.

If the mission takes off, India will be the fourth country – after the US, Russia and China – to send a manned mission to space. India is not the only Asian country in the new space race – Iran recently announced it will attempt a manned space flight by 2021.

Dismissing the criticism of the huge costs involved in the mission, another senior IAF official listed its military advantages. He said it will help India acquire Inter-Continental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) capability.

“To place a spacecraft in orbit, we will require a bigger rocket booster. This large rocket booster will help India acquire ICBM capability,” the senior official added.

He also said it would boost the country’s reconnaisance capability. “To be in constant touch with the astronauts as they revolve around the earth, we will need to interlink our satellites, which in turn will boost our reconnaissance capability. Presently, we are able to get 15 minutes’ feed daily from our satellites. The space mission will give us 90 minutes’ feed,” he said.

The decision to send astronauts into space follows the launch last October of India’s first unmanned lunar mission, Chandrayaan-1, which signalled the country’s entry into an elite club of nations that have reached the moon. Chandrayaan-1 is now orbiting the moon to compile a 3-D map of its surface, among other things. India is planning to launch its second unmanned lunar mission – Chandrayaan-2 – in 2011.

India’s decision to go for a manned mission into space comes in the wake of China making great strides in its space pursuits. China completed its first space walk last year, and also shot down one of its own satellites in 2007.