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The Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) is roping in Indian Air Force (IAF) pilots to identify the first set of astronauts for a human space flight. IAF pilot Rakesh Sharma is the only Indian to have travelled in space. He flew aboard the Soviet rocket Soyuz T-11 in 1984. Kalpana Chawla, one of the seven crew members who died in the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster in 2003, was an American astronaut of Indian origin. ISRO tested on Thursday a crew escape system (CES), which is a capsule that ejects from a rocket if it explodes on the launch pad.
Crew Escape System test details:
ISRO performed the first Pad Abort Test, in a series of tests to qualify a Crew Escape System, on 5 July 2018, at the Satish Dhawan Space Centre, Sriharikota.
The mass of the simulated crew module was about 12.6 tonnes, lifted off at 02:00 UTC (07:00 IST) and splash-down in the Bay of Bengal under its parachutes, about 2.9 km from Sriharikota.
The CES is a series of technology building blocks that ISRO is developing for an eventual mission to carry astronauts to space. It is a crucial emergency escape measure designed to quickly pull the spacecraft that houses the astronauts to a safe distance from the launch vehicle in the event of a rocket explosion.
ISRO has so far built a capsule that can re-enter from space, space suits, food for astronauts in collaboration with Defence Research and Development Organisation, and is working on an astronaut-training facility on the outskirts of Bengaluru.
The Government of India has granted ₹145 crore to do initial studies for a manned mission to space, is yet to approve the project that could potentially cost over $2 billion.
“This is a developmental activity that eventually will be used for a human spaceflight,” said AS Kiran Kumar, former chairman of Isro. He said a human spaceflight is an expensive proposition and lots of space-faring activities could be done through robotic missions or unmanned flights.
India has been working on human spaceflight for over a decade, but it still does not have a rocket powerful enough to carry astronauts into space.
ISRO is working on its geosynchronous satellite launch vehicle Mk-3 (GSLV-MK-3). This rocket could potentially carry around 8 tonnes of spacecraft to lower earth orbit. However, it has to make it so safe that the possibility of error could be one in a million.