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India Announces Plans For Its First Human Space Mission

Jan 1, 2020
Originally published on January 2, 2020 11:15 am

India's space agency says that four astronaut candidates have been selected for its first human mission, targeted to launch by 2022, but they've not been publicly named or identified.

India hopes to join the United States, Russia and China as the world's fourth nation capable of sending people to space. It has been developing its own crewed spacecraft, called Gaganyaan (or "sky vehicle" in Sanskrit), that would let two to three people orbit Earth on a weeklong spaceflight.

K Sivan, chairman of the Indian Space Research Organization, held a press briefing on New Year's Day and told reporters that the four astronauts would start their training in Russia in a few weeks.

He also said his agency had government approval for its next robotic moon mission, Chandrayaan-3, and that work is already underway. That mission could launch in 2021.

Sivan told reporters that this lunar effort would include a lander and a rover, much like the Chandrayaan-2 mission. Last year, India made an unsuccessful attempt to put a small solar-powered rover on the moon. Its landing system malfunctioned, and it crashed.

K Sivan, chairman of the Indian Space Research Organization, announced plans for a moon mission and for the country's first human space flight at a press conference Wednesday.
Manjunath Kiran / AFP via Getty Images

Last month, NASA released an image showing the debris field left on the moon by the doomed lander.

The Chandrayaan-2 mission also included an orbiting spacecraft, however, that is still circling the moon and functioning well. That means it can be used by Chandrayaan-3's rover to relay communications back to Earth.

India's first successful lunar mission, Chandrayaan-1, put a spacecraft in orbit around the moon in 2008 and then later sent a probe hurtling toward the moon's south pole, where it deliberately crashed and released material that got analyzed by the orbiter's scientific instruments, helping to confirm the presence of water ice on the moon.

That orbiter stopped functioning after less than a year, but the success was a huge boost for India's space program.

Then, in 2014, India put a satellite in orbit around Mars, beating its space rival China to the red planet and becoming the fourth national space agency to reach Mars.

So far, however, the only citizen of India to fly in space is Rakesh Sharma, an Indian Air Force pilot who traveled on a Russian spacecraft in 1984.

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