‘Safety, reliability do not always go hand in hand in manned missions’

Is a reliable rocket also a safe one? Designing a safe environment for astronauts to travel to space, spend days there and return safely to earth can pose extremely complex and difficult challenges, according to Air Commodore Anupam Agarwal, Commandant, Institute of Aerospace Medicine (IAM), Bangalore, who on Friday outlined the problem of the human factor in manned space missions.

A premier institute of the Indian Air Force (IAF), IAM is collaborating with the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) in preparing astronauts for the manned Gaganyaan mission.

Safety And Reliability

“From an engineer’s point of view, safety and reliability go hand in hand. If a system is reliable, obviously it is safe. But when you look at it from a human engineer’s point of view, they do not always go hand in hand. You can have an absolutely reliable machine which is not safe. You can have a completely copybook launch and recovery and still not have a safe system,” Air Commodore Agarwal told ISRO scientists who had gathered here for a seminar on Quality and Reliability, jointly organised by the Society for Aerospace Quality and Reliability and the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC).

Impact On Crew

All aspects of the mission, including the design of the GSLV MK-III rocket, the fuel and the shape of the space capsule would have an impact on the crew. Compared to machines, humans had small tolerance levels. Temperature variations, radiation, g-effects, and noise and oxygen requirements would have an impact on the crew. Add to it idiosyncrasies, variations in human physiques and potential health issues — allergies, infections, phobias — the problems in designing a safe environment for astronauts are aplenty, according to him.

Unique Opportunity

On another front, Gaganyaan mission offered a unique opportunity for the aviation and space sectors of the country to learn from each other, Air Commodore Agarwal said. “This is the time when manned aircraft is moving to unmanned aircraft in the military domain. And at least in India, unmanned spacecraft is moving to manned spacecraft. So there is a lot we can learn from each other,” he said.

While the human experience of working in space was limited, human beings had been flying long enough in aircraft in India. The data gleaned from this large storehouse of experience could be used beneficially for manned space missions, he pointed out.