More than a decade after an eminent group of scientists gave the green signal for India to undertake a human space flight, the ambitious venture is nowhere near take-off in the absence of government approval. In November 2006, at a meeting convened by the Indian Space Research Organisation, scientists were highly appreciative of the study undertaken by the space agency on such a mission, and were unanimous in suggesting that the time is appropriate for the country to undertake the venture.
But the mission seems to have fallen off the priority list of the Bengaluru-headquartered ISRO since then. “We need to get the approval for that programme, till that comes we are working on some critical technologies, like environmentally-controlled laboratory, flight suite,” ISRO Chairman A S Kiran Kumar told PTI.
“We have also done some re-entry experiment. Certain technology elements we will continue to develop until the country is ready for taking up this as a full-fledged programme,” he said. “For this (the human space flight programme), the requisite priority has to be there, funding has to be there, then only activities will happen.”.
Kiran Kumar said ISRO’s immediate priority is to meet the basic needs of communication, navigation and remote sensing.
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“First, we have to ensure all this is done adequately, there itself, we are trying to push the envelope and then (we have to undertake) more frequent launches so that we provide the requisite number of satellites in orbit for meeting all these requirements,” he said.
“So, that is still happening, not yet happened. That will remain the bigger priority,” he said. According to him, work towards such a mission would continue. “As and when the approval etc. comes, then we will take it up in a bigger way. At this point, priority is not that,” Kiran Kumar said.
Nearly 80 scientists from across the country had participated in the November 7, 2006 meeting to discuss the issues related to the mission, an ISRO press release at that time said.
The ISRO had conducted studies for four years from 2002 to examine the technological challenges of such a mission and the Indian capability to undertake it. The concept for the venture included development of an autonomous orbital vehicle which could be launched by India’s Geo-synchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle, GSLV-Mk II or GSLV- Mk III, the release had said.
Studies highlighted that the ISRO has maturity in many technologies required for the mission. However, new developments are required in life support systems, improved reliability and safety and crew escape system, among others.
The meeting was attended by eminent scientists like U R Rao, Yash Pal, R Narasimha, R M Vasagam, N Pant, P S Goel, N Balakrishnan, A R Upadhya, T S Prahlad, S Vasantha and Avinash Chander, then ISRO Chairman G Madhavan Nair and Wing Commander Rakesh Sharma, the first Indian to travel in space.