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ISRO and the Modi Government’s resolve to send an Indian into space by 2022

Lalit Shastri

Experts connected with ISRO do not have even an iota of doubt about the capabilities of Indian scientists who have a proven record of trailblazing success and achievements when it comes to the Indian space programme.

In his address to the Nation from the ramparts of the Red Fort on the 72nd Independence Day, Prime Minister Narendra Modi today (15 August 2018) said with Mangalyaan, the Indian scientists have proved their capabilities.

Stating that the country is progressing fast in its space missions, the Prime Minister underscored the scientists’ dream and announced the Government’s resolve that by 2022, when India celebrates 75 years of Independence or maybe even before that, some young boys and girls from India will unfurl the Tricolour in space.

Further, he announced “very soon as a part of our Manned-Space mission, we shall be sending an Indian into space…. through the pursuit of our esteemed scientists, and we will proudly find ourselves as the fourth such nation to have launched a successful Man Space Mission.”

Isro Chairman K Sivan told a section of media later today that the PM’s announcement came as a surprise. According to him, it is a great gift to ISRO and they were confident of sending Indians into space. He also said that all critical technology related to the project has been developed.

According to ISRO insiders, what the Prime Minister has announced can be achieved over a period of time but it will be difficult to accomplish the target within a short span of four years even with a budget of Rs. 10,000 crore (Rs 100 billion) which will be difficult to earmark. It is also being pointed out that India will have to take help either from the US or Russia if the Modi Government is determined about the 2022 deadline.

It is learnt that former ISRO chief Kiran Kumar was even asked to go to Russia, probably to explore collaboration for a manned space mission. It is also being pointed out that 7 to 8 years should be treated as the realistic time-frame if the Manned Space Mission Programme is put on the fast track without wasting any time.

Besides the huge budget, the manned space programme would require manpower in sizable numbers. This would call for a complex set of initiatives in several inter-connected areas, including a dedicated infrastructure, recruitment, training, rating of personnel and mastering of environmental controls.

The grapevine in ISRO circles is that the PM’s announcement is a direct corollary to too much being projected about ISRO’s preparedness. This is explicit from the ISRO chairman K Sivan’s statement that he was taken by surprise by the 2022 target given to his organisation by the Prime Minister. Sivan’s first reaction speaks volumes about the coordination between him, in his capacity as Chairman ISRO and Secretary Department of Space, and the Prime Minister. The surprise element (that too at his level) in this matter shows that the flow of inputs and information from his side on a continuous basis has led to the ambitious announcement. It remains to be seen whether or not man-rated vehicle and all the test facilities for this purpose could be commissioned in time to achieve the target or the results would come much later under a new ISRO chief.

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