Thursday, July 7, 2011

India's human spaceflight programme-----no direction

        The story has an ironical twist.

        Fifty years of the first manned spaceflight is being marked by two developments. First, if all goes well and weather is a `go'  at Nasa's Kennedy Space Centre, then a major programme relating to manned spaceflights will draw to a close on the night of July 8,2011 (IST): the launch of space shuttle Atlantis.

         Second, in the 50th anniv of the first human space mission, it is strange that India has not yet laid out a clear and precise road map of its human spaceflight programme four years after it was first announced by former Isro chairman, Madhavan Nair. Nair declared India's intention to launch a manned space flight on August 9, 2007.

         Both are matters of irony. In one case a programme is ending,  and in another case the programme has failed to take off even after four years.Both during the 50th anniv of the first manned mission by Yuri Gagarin.

      . And, the fact that India is groping in the dark in this particular area is amply evident in an interview Isro chairman, K.Radhakrishnan, recently gave to a news agency called entitled ``India mulls options on human space flight programme.''

        In stark contrast to China, which has laid out a clear road map of its manned mission programme, India is still in the process of debating the three possible options. Cannot believe that even after four years we have still not arrived at a firm decision. The three options are as mentioned by the Isro chief are:-

        * An taikonaut flying in a Soyuz spacecraft or some other system.
        * Make a crew model indigenously and use a foreign rocket.

        * India to use its own rocket and crew module and undertakes the flight completely indigenously.

        To ``Beyond Moon and Mars (BMM)'' it appears that the third option is the best. If it is accepted, the question then is will the mission ever take off since nothing is ready. The problem with the second option is that if anything goes wrong, it will trigger a game of buck passing with India and the foreign space agency blaming each other for the malfunction.

        Imagine after four years Radhakrishnan is asking how will the programme benefit the country! When Isro initiated the project, it should have assigned a team of scientists and engineers to study it in-depth, evaluate and assess as to whether it will really benefit the nation. `` All these models are possible. We are not closed on any of these options. But, one has to study as to how does it lead you to the future,'' he told the interviewer.

        In a way this reminds BMM of the arguments and counter arguments which went on in the US about the advantages and disadvantages of manned and unmanned space missions.

        Regarding the rocket which will be used for the manned mission, no decision has been taken. The debate is whether to use GSLV Mark 2 or the advanced version of this rocket, designated as GSLV Mark 3.What human spaceflight programme are we talking about? In the opinion of BMM, there is no real programme at all at this point. It is apparent that India has not worked with a fixed goal wth regards to this project. If the programme has to lift off, please emulate the example of China.

        India is clear about its PSLV (Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle) and satellite projects and has emerged as a world leader in these critical areas. Why not the same for its manned space flight programme too? It is perhaps for this reason that the government has not given the formal go ahead for this nearly Rs 13,000 crore project.

       Here is a suggestion---if the government and Isro are not serious--they do not appear to be serious atleast at this stage--about a human spaceflight programme, then why not simply reallocate the funds for additional missions to the moon and to Mars. Isro has been talking about an unmanned flight to the Red Planet. But, nothing has happened either.

      Wake up India and let is citizens explore the universe.






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