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27 Feb, 2024 14:53

India’s Modi gives ‘wings’ to Russian-trained astronauts

The South Asian nation is gearing up to launch its first manned mission to an orbit of 400km above the Earth
India’s Modi gives ‘wings’ to Russian-trained astronauts

New Delhi has unveiled the names of four astronauts who will travel to space aboard the country’s first manned space mission – Gaganyaan – scheduled for 2024-2025. The astronauts, chosen from the Indian Air Force, are Group Captains Prashanth Balakrishnan Nair, Ajit Krishnan, and Angad Pratap, and Wing Commander Shubhanshu Shukla. 

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who introduced the astronauts at the Vikram Sarabhai Space Center in the southern Indian state of Kerala, called it a “remarkable day” for the nation’s space sector.

The prime minister and Sreedhara Panicker Somanath, the head of India’s space agency, pinned badges on their uniforms. “[They will be] carrying the aspirations of 140 crore [1.4 billion] Indians into space,” Modi said. “India is continuously expanding its space in the global order and this is clearly visible in our space program.”

In 2020, the astronauts traveled to Russia for space flight training at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City outside Moscow. Rakesh Sharma – the first Indian to travel in space, on April 2, 1984 aboard the Soviet Soyuz T-11 – also trained in the Gagarin Center. 

Since their return, the four has been undergoing rigorous training for the mission in India. A video from Tuesday shows them working out in the gym, swimming, and doing yoga.

With Gaganyaan, India is set to test its spaceflight capability by launching a crew to an orbit of 400km for three days and bringing them safely back to Earth. The first of a series of test flights in preparation for the mission was conducted in October last year. More tests, including one involving a humanoid robot and another unmanned flight, are expected to be conducted in the lead-up to the manned launch.

India witnessed major triumphs in its space sector last year, which included the successful launch of the lunar probe Chandrayaan-3. In September, India launched the country’s first mission to the Sun, a solar observatory called Aditya-L1. A month later, Modi urged the space agency to aim to set up its own space station by 2035 and send the first Indian to the Moon by 2040.

On Tuesday, Modi inaugurated three more space projects worth $217 million, including a PSLV Integration Facility at the Satish Dhawan Space Center in Sriharikota, the primary spaceport of the Indian Space Research Organization. The development comes days after New Delhi eased restrictions on foreign direct investment in its space sector as it seeks to attract global investors.

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