Almost two months after Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and the Indian Air Force (IAF) signed an agreement to select and train the crew of India’s maiden manned space mission, Gaganyaan-1, the country’s premier space agency has signed a contract with Russia’s Glavkosmos for selection support, medical examination and space training of Indian astronauts. The contract was signed on June 27 2019 by Director of Human Space Flight Centre (HSFC) of ISRO, Dr S Unnikrishnan Nair and First Deputy Director General of Glavkosmos (part of Roscosmos State Corporation of Russia) Natalia Lokteva. As per the contract, Glavkosmos will render services to HSFC in Bengaluru, on consulting support of selection of candidates for Indian astronauts, providing medical examination of the candidates for access to space flight related training programme, and providing space flight related training for Indian astronauts selected on the basis of medical examinations. “Work will be provided with support of the Federal State Budget Organization U A Gagarin Research & Test Cosmonaut Training Center and Institute of Biomedical Problems of the Russian Academy of Sciences,” said a statement posted on Glavkosmos’ website. It is not yet known what role the IAF would play in the selection and training of Indian astronauts, termed ‘vyomanauts’, although it signed an agreement with ISRO on May 28, 2019. The agreement with IAF was signed by Assistant Chief of Air Staff (Space Operations) Air Vice Marshal RGK Kapoor and Gaganyaan project director R Hutton, with ISRO chairman Dr K Sivan being witness to it. As per ISRO’s agreement with IAF, the crew selection and training was to be conducted at ISRO’s Human Space Flight Centre, which was opened on January 31 2019 next to the ISRO headquarters in Bengaluru, to develop life support systems, crew training and planning for future manned space missions under the Gaganyaan project. PM Narendra Modi had announced on August 15, 2018, that ISRO would send three astronauts, including a woman, by December 2022. The Rs 9,023-crore Gaganyaan mission entails a three-member crew being sent in a space capsule on board a heavy-lift rocket to be released in orbit around the Earth at an altitude of 350-400km for about a week. ISRO has planned to send two unmanned missions before the main mission is undertaken sometime in 2021-2022, a senior ISRO scientist said.
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