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A step closer to putting Indians in space

With the success of the Indian Space Research Organisation’s first test flight for its ambitious Gaganyaan mission last week, India is one step closer to realising its ambition to launch a manned space flight by 2025. The maiden Flight Test Vehicle Abort Mission-1 (TV-D1) to demonstrate the Crew Escape System (CES) performance successfully touched down in the waters of the Bay of Bengal in an operation that is an important part of the human space flight mission. The CES was carried into space where it separated from the crew module and descended and dropped into the sea not far away from the Sriharikota launch site. It was retrieved by the Indian Navy. The operation was conducted to test the CES’ ability to protect the crew in case of a rocket malfunction during its ascent with the astronauts into space. The success of this test was vital because crew safety is the most important consideration in a manned space mission.

The test has given much data that will be useful to ISRO in its future flight plans. Importantly, it has given it confidence to proceed with an important project. ISRO Chairman S Somanath has said that the crew module has been recovered intact and that all the parameters are good. He also said that the organisation has planned a series of further tests to be done in the coming weeks and months. There was some uncertainty about the test when the launch was to be done last week. It was delayed by weather, and was again postponed just when the launch was about to take place due to an unknown glitch. It was announced that the programme was postponed. But the problem was identified quickly and resolved, and the launch was rescheduled and executed within an hour’s time.

The Gaganyaan project involves the launching of a crew of three members into an orbit of 400-km and bringing them safely back to Earth. India has yet to demonstrate its capability for human space missions though it has achieved quite a few milestones in unmanned space endeavours, including the recent Chandrayaan-3 moon landing. The project was conceived in 2009 and was approved by the government in 2018 at a budget of Rs 9,023 crore. The initial plan was for a maiden flight in 2022 but it has been subsequently put off, first to 2024 and now to 2025. The country has other ambitious plans also, such as setting up a space station by 2035 and a human landing on the moon by 2040. ISRO deserves credit for making India’s space ambitions real.

(Published 25 October 2023, 19:06 IST)

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