The IAF has recently inducted women fighter pilots who could be considered for the project

by Manu Pubby

Astronauts for India’s first manned mission to space are likely to be selected this year, with the air force getting ready to identify a pool of ace pilots who would undergo a battery of tests, including psychological assessments, to fly the Gaganyaan space mission.

A senior air force officer told ET that while a formal request for astronauts is pending, the IAF is in touch with Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and that the selection would be over by the end of this year. The Indian mission has an ambitious launch date of early 2022 — before India’s 75th Independence Day — that leaves a tight schedule to identify and train the first set of astronauts.

“The crew will have three members but we will need to have a pool of pilots identified who will be evaluated in all aspects and trained before the mission,” the officer said.

While parameters have not yet been identified, officials said that test pilots of the air force — who are specially trained to handle emergency situations and experimental aircraft — are likely to be part of the first manned mission. The IAF has two sets of test pilots for fixed wing planes and rotary aircraft.

The Indian mission will also have a woman astronaut who will be selected from the pool of military pilots in India. The IAF has recently inducted women fighter pilots who could be considered for the project. It also has a pool of women pilots with considerable experience in flying transport aircraft and choppers. “The first mission will have trained pilots but in the future, it has to be decided what kind of crew is required, depending on the mission. In other countries, scientists and specialised personnel are also sent to space,” the officer said.

While other nations, including Russia, have promised support to train an Indian crew for the mission, efforts will also be made to put an Indian system into place that will be able to select personnel and train them with the creation of special facilities here. The IAF’s Institute of Aerospace Medicine will play a critical role in the selection and training of astronauts that will involve the extensive use of simulators and the human centrifuge system.