The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Invite for a space ride

Bangalore, Aug. 21: After Indian-American astronaut Kalpana Chawla, an Indian national could soon hitch a ride aboard a US space shuttle. An announcement could be made after the Joint Working Group on Civil Space Co-operation meets in Washington next month.

“The US offered to include an Indian astronaut in its training modules and later on a flight. So, it is their invitation rather than our request,” a source at the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) said.

“That’s why we cannot say much except that Discovery’s smooth landing means it could happen sooner than expected. We will begin working on the details after the next meeting of the joint working group.”

Currently, though, all US space shuttle flights are suspended. Nasa took the decision after a large piece of insulating foam broke off Discovery’s external fuel tank shortly after its July 26 liftoff ' the same problem that had doomed Columbia two-and-a-half years ago.

Wg Cdr Rakesh Sharma was the first Indian to go into space, on board a Russian Soyuz T-11 in 1984.

Chawla travelled on two US missions on space shuttle Columbia, in 1997 and 2003. She died on the second mission when Columbia blew apart immediately after re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere on February 1, 2003.

In the mid-1980s, Nasa had offered to fly an Indian on board the space shuttle Challenger for the deployment of an Insat-I satellite, manufactured by Ford Aerospace and Communications Corporation, US. Isro carried out an in-house search and picked two engineers, N. Chidambar Bhat and P. Radhakrishnan Nair, for the flight.

But the mission was shelved because of Challenger’s mid-air disaster in January 1986. The Indian satellite was later launched by an Ariane rocket from Kourou, French Guiana.

Isro scientists said the latest US offer could well be the precursor to India’s own manned space mission, likely to happen eight years from now at a cost of Rs 10,000 crore.

The scientists have begun an in-house discussion on the mission and the design of a recoverable capsule due for a flight on board the home-grown Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) later this year.

After orbiting Earth for about a month, the capsule will be recovered off the Indian east coast. It will be put through tests for the thermal protection system, navigation, guidance and control, management of communication blackout, ability to lose speed while re-entering the atmosphere and recovery from the sea. For manned space flights, the capsule will hold the astronauts on the mission.

The joint working group was set up after the Indo-US Conference on Space Science, Application and Commerce in Bangalore in June 2004. The group will lend the final touches to Nasa’s plans to ride piggyback on India’s unmanned lunar mission, Chandrayaan-I, with two experimental payloads on board.

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