Dr Somanath noted that ISRO was at a "critical juncture" with Gaganyaan this year

It will be a "very proud" moment for the entire nation if we can fly Prime Minister Narendra Modi to space, Dr S Somanath, Chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation, has said.

However, he quickly added that he would wait for the much anticipated Gaganyaan Mission to be "ready, to be proven, to be qualified enough to do that."

In an exclusive interview with NDTV, Dr Somanath noted that ISRO was at a "critical juncture" with Gaganyaan this year and had three important missions scheduled.

A few months ago, Prashanth Nair, Angad Prathap, Ajit Krishnan, and Shubhanshu Shukla were chosen as the four test pilots of the Indian Air Force for the Gaganyaan mission. The human space flight mission will launch a crew of up to three members into a Low Earth Orbit.

Dr Somanath said he was "limited by the availability of the trained astronaut whom I can put in front of the possible candidates for this mission."

"Any other candidate, including VIPs, for such missions cannot be considered at this moment because it is a highly skilled and trained operation which requires many years and months of preparation, and I believe that will be the guiding spirit in this case," he stated.

Asked whether he would be happy to accommodate Prime Minister Modi if he decided to go, Dr Somanath said, "Of course, I'll be very happy to do that, but then that's not the point here. He has much more responsible jobs to do I believe. But this is one of the capabilities that we would like to develop, that's human spaceflight capability, which we are in the process of gaining."

So, does he prefer that the Indian Prime Minister fly on when the Gaganyaan is ready to take him on an Indian vehicle to space?

The ISRO chief replied, "You said it right. See whenever such a thing has to happen, the Head of the State has to fly to the International Space Station or a space station of that station, it must be on our vehicle and from our land. I think I should say that only. So, I would wait for the Gaganyaan to be ready, to be proven, to be qualified enough to do that."

He added, "All of us will be very proud. Not only me, the entire nation will be proud if we have that ability to confidently send such a state man to space."

While talking about a launch date, Dr Somanath said that the first test flight of the Gaganyaan is scheduled for the end of next year "if all goes well."

"But everything depends on the progress we are going to make," he added.

(With Reporting by NDTV)