The Indian Air Force and its arms are fully geared up for supporting the first Indian human space mission of 2022, IAF chief Air Chief Marshal B.S. Dhanoa said on Friday.

Coming at a short notice, the Human Space Flight Programme or HSP is daunting and throws a different kind of challenge at the IAF, he said. “We have in-house capabilities at the Institute of Aerospace Medicine [IAM]; we have selected our cosmonauts in the past. IAM will play a key role in human engineering support and the development of the space crew capsule. It is fully geared up to whatever tasks it must do,” Air Chief Marshal Dhanoa said at the institute’s annual aerospace medicine conference.

Selection of astronauts would take 12-14 months, according to IAM Commandant Air Commodore Anupam Agarwal.

Indian Space Research Organisation, which is tasked with the mission, also called Gaganyaan, has earlier said its three astronauts will most likely be from among the IAF’s test pilots. Air Chief Marshal Dhanoa said ISRO Chairman K.Sivan has discussed the project with him and the astronauts would be selected and trained at IAM and other places once the specific requirements of the flyers are finalised.

“ISRO’s Chairman has met me and I have assured him our full support. It is a tremendous thing for the IAF as well as for the country,” he said.

First Indian cosmonaut Rakesh Sharma who went of Soyuz T-11 in 1984 and fellow test pilot and back-up cosmonaut Ravish Malhotra were trained at the IAM and the then Soviet Union during 1982-84.

Air Commodore Agarwal said, “We have to choose astronauts trainees not just for today but also for the next ten years. After spending crores of rupees we cannot afford to lose them” for reasons of fitness. Psychological strengthening would be an important part of their training - to stay calm, caring and alert while they worked in desolate and dangerous space.

He said the challenge of Gaganyaan is bigger as we are the only nation that decided to send man to space first before experiment with animals — which Russia, the U.S., Europe and China did.