ISRO and NASA can jointly work on India’s first manned mission: Former NASA administrator

The Indian Space Research Organisation and US’s NASA can work together for India’s first manned mission to space by allowing US private companies to train and select the astronauts, said a former head of the US space agency. While adding that the US can offer assistance for the Indian mission, Major General Charles Frank Bolden who was the 12th NASA Administrator suggested that India can follow what NASA does, which is not train its astronauts. He explained that NASA outsources the training of astronauts to private companies, which also provides services such as operators of space vehicles and flight contractors on a contract basis. Bolden explained that this is the ‘quickest route’ India can take. He added that until India doesn’t develop a human space flight program, as an ‘interim measure’ it can collaborate with another country’s existing program to train astronauts. These trained astronauts would then become the ‘nucleus’ of the manned space program and could contribute to training others. “India’s ISRO and NASA can work together under the umbrella of agreements that we have right now to either put Indian experiments on station or Indian astronauts on station to actually do the experiments,” said Mr Bolden, who was speaking in reference to the International Space Station program, at an interactive session at FICCI. The program is a joint project between five participating countries- NASA, Roscosmos (Russia), JAXA (Japan), ESA (Europe) and CSA (Canada). Mr Bolden who is on a tour to India said that he learnt about how ISRO is trying to understand the public-private partnership and added “do like we do in the US”. “NASA doesn’t train astronauts. We have contracts. We have been doing this for a long time…If you go to the control centre in Houston today, all flight controllers are SGT (team of contractors). The flight director is from NASA, but that NASA person is supervising a contractor team. Who was preparing the shuttle it was all the United States Alliance (conglomerate of Boeing and Lockheed Martin) people. Relying on commercial entities to operate our vehicles,” he said, adding that the contractor team would have also worked with astronauts and trained them. “Assistance can be offered by the US by allowing some US private companies in astronaut selection and training…If India asks for help, this kind of engagement can be done,” he said. Mr Bolden said that NASA can facilitate the training, by getting India in contact with such private companies. These companies have signed contracts with NASA to use NASA’s facilities to train astronauts. “Hard part is you have to pay. The thing that people used to like about being member of international space station confederation was there was no exchange of funds. You bring something else and you get opportunity to fly a crew,” he said. And pointed out that this was one of the obstacles to ISRO’s attempts at astronaut flying, because there was nothing to offer in barter. “This was because the Indian industry hadn’t decided with the government that we want to contribute. That is what he was fighting to get something to barter so that an Indian astronaut can go up,” said Bolden in reference to Mr A.S. Kiran Kumar, who was the ISRO chairman from January 2015 till January last year. Mr Kumar was also present for the FICCI session. Bolden added that he and Mr Kumar were working together to get India to engage with member nations of the International Space Station program. Bolden also pointed out that one should not be dependent on Russia to get astronauts to space. He explained that the US trains with Russia on the space program, but there are language issues. This comes in the backdrop of Russia having promised to train an Indian crew for the manned space mission. The Indian Air Force and ISRO are already working together to select astronauts by the end of this year.


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