Monday, October 19, 2009

ISRO, IAF spar over seats on India’s maiden space odyssey

The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and the Indian Air Force (IAF) are at loggerheads over who will be on board the spacecraft when the country’s first manned mission into space is launched in 2015. 

Traditionally, countries that have sent men into space have chosen Air Force pilots as astronauts. Rakesh Sharma, the only Indian to have travelled to space so far, was also from the Air Force. He was a Squadron Leader—who retired as Wing Commander—when he went into space in 1984 aboard Soyuz T-11, the spacecraft of the then Soviet Union. So was his back up, Ravish Malhotra, who retired as Air Commodore.

But ISRO, which will plan and execute the mission, is challenging the conventional wisdom. It wants its own scientists on board the spacecraft. “It is not necessary that only men from the Services can be selected to become astronauts. Scientists from within ISRO can also be sent on the spacecraft,” says S. Satish, director of public relations at ISRO. 

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