It was on June 20, exactly 45 years back that Neil Armstrong became the first human to step on the moon's surface. Since then there have been several human space and moon missions undertaken by many countries.
India too for long has been aspiring to become part of the elite club of nations like USA, Russia and China by having its own human spaceflight mission. During second half of the last decade, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) expressed its intent to have undertake a human space flight mission which will carry a two or three member crew to the Low Earth Orbit and return them to a predefined destination on earth.
This mission was expected to take off by the year 2015. While the government had given the nod for the programme which is said to cost the exchequer Rs 12,500 crore it has been releasing funds in phases. So far only Rs 149 crore has been for this mission.
Further the mission does not find a place in the 12th five year plan (2012-2017). Hence the programme has been ruled out until 2017. Apart from funding issues and not been given priority in the five year plan another setback for the mission was back-to-back failures of the Geo-Synchronous Launch Vehicle (GSLV) and Isro's decision to consider having the human space flight on the GSLV-Mk III instead of the GSLV-Mk II which was originally proposed for the mission.
The space agency had planned to have the maiden GSLV-Mk III flight in April but the launch has been postponed. The GSLV-MK III flight is an experimental one and in expected to be carried out in the next couple of months. According to Isro the flight will be carried out to understand the characteristics of crew module and escape system with are two critical technologies that have to be realised for the mission.
The mission envisages the development of a fully autonomous orbital vehicle carrying 2 or 3 crew members to about 300 km low earth orbit and their safe return.
What has been achieved so far?
Though the mission has been delayed the pre project activities are progressing with a focus on the development of critical technologies for subsystems such as Crew Module (CM), Environmental control and Life Support System (ECLSS), Crew Escape System, etc.
The Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) has already handed over the first Crew Module Structural Assembly for the mission to Isro. The first Crew Module will be further equipped with systems necessary for crew support, navigation, guidance and control systems by ISRO for experimentation in the forthcoming GSLV-MK III launch.
Isro has also entrusted Indian Air Force's Institute of Aerospace Medicine to Basic research and studies on human physiological and psychological requirements for human space flight crew.
What needs to be done?
Isro will have to perfect the GSLV Mk III and ensure that the launch vehicle
has a reliability of 0.99. The space agency will identify prospective astronauts or Vyomanauts for the mission. The chosen ones will be trained at the Astronaut Training Centre which the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) is planning to set up near Devanahalli.