GSLV Mark III variants, the standard config vehicle will likely be used to send Indians to space

ISRO has tested several technologies for manned space mission. The idea was first mooted in 2004. PM Modi said a manned mission would be undertaken by 2022

India will send a man or a woman to space on its own spacecraft within the next four years, Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared today. "This dream [of sending an Indian to space] has to be fulfilled before the 75th Independence Day... Our scientists will achieve this... and then we will become only the fourth country in the world to send a human to space on their own spacecraft," PM Modi said while making the announcement.

The announcement of the first-ever Indian manned space mission was made during the prime minister's annual Independence Day speech.

One Indian, Rakesh Sharma, has been to space. But, Sharma did so as a cosmonaut on a Russian spacecraft. While India has sent rovers to the Moon and planet Mars, an Indian manned mission to space is not among the laurels the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has earned over the years.

Can the space agency really accomplish what PM Modi has promised? ISRO chief K Sivan has expressed confidence that the agency will be able to meet the deadline. The agency has already developed most of the technology required for such a mission, Sivan said.

Just a month ago, the space agency successfully tested a crew escape system, a critical technology necessary for human spaceflight.

In July, ISRO successfully tested a crew escape system

"The Crew Escape System is an emergency escape measure designed to quickly pull the crew module along with the astronauts to a safe distance from the launch vehicle in the event of a launch abort," ISRO had said at after the successful test.

The test of the crew escape was an important milestone on a road that ISRO embarked on over a decade ago. In 2004, ISRO prepared a vision document that charted a roadmap for developing technologies necessary for human spaceflight.

At a November 2006 meeting, ISRO scientists endorsed the idea of undertaking a human spaceflight venture. And ever since then, ISRO has been working on developing critical technologies needed to send a human to space.
Till now, we were working on some certain critical technologies such as flight suits, crew escape system... We also carried out some re-entry experiments - Former ISRO chief AS Kiran
In 2012, the Ministry of Science and Technology allocated Rs 145 crore in funding for the program.

But, even as recently as 2016, the government did not have a concrete plan to launch such a mission. Replying to a question in Parliament, Union minister Jitendra Singh said the government had no plans to launch a manned space mission "in the near future". But, Singh did add that ISRO was working on technologies that would be needed for a manned mission "as part of its research and development" activities.

"Till now, we were working on some certain critical technologies, such as environmentally-controlled laboratory, flight suits, crew escape system... We also carried out some re-entry experiments..." former ISRO chief Dr AS Kiran Kumar told India Today TV. Kumar added that with the PM Modi's new announcement, the programme should get a much-needed push.

A prototype of an Indian-made space suit displayed at ISRO's ISAC

The announcement certainly has scientists enthused. Noted poet-scientist Gauhar Raza said, "If our scientists are given a free hand and there is no political intervention, we can definitely achieve this goal."

"ISRO has the capabilities and world class expertise to achieve this dream [with] minimal cost," Raza also said.

Speaking of the cost, an initial estimate had pegged the budget of such a manned mission at Rs 12,500 crore. ISRO chief Kailasavadivoo Sivan, however, expressed confidence that the agency would be able to complete the mission for less than that.

A prototype of a crew module that would carry humans into space (Photo courtesy: ISRO)

"Most of the technology [required for the mission] has been developed [under the] research and development fund allocated for ISRO. Less than Rs 10,000 crore will be required" for the actual mission, Sivan said at a Bengaluru press conference shortly after PM Modi's announcement.

Sivan said the agency will submit a report on the project's status in the next two months.

Coincidentally, the deadline announced by PM Narendra Modi for the manned mission is the same time by which China, which has sent two humans to space on their own spacecraft, hopes to establish a permanent space station.