The plan to send an Indian astronaut to the International Space Station (ISS) next year will have no bearing on the Gaganyaan mission, which will continue on its timeline, Science and Technology Minister Jitendra Singh said on Friday.
Addressing a press conference here, Singh said the choice of astronauts for the India-US joint mission to the ISS, announced during Prime Minister Narendra Modi's ongoing state visit to the US, was "wide open" and should not be mixed with the Gaganyaan mission, which is also scheduled for lift-off late 2024.
"They (the US) have a mission planned for 2024. Whether it will carry an Indian is still being worked out. Gaganyaan has been in the works. There will not be any essential bearing on its progress," the minister told reporters here.
Singh asserted that Gaganyaan was a separate mission altogether with its own set of timeline.
"We do not have to mix the two. Your question is based on the assumption that the astronaut who is going out to ISS is from Gaganyaan. It may not be the case. The choice is wide open. It depends more on suitability," Singh said.
The actual decision on the Indian astronaut will be taken once the mission to ISS is finalised. He did not rule out an astronaut trained for Gaganyaan travelling to the ISS so that he can have a firsthand experience of a spaceflight.
Singh also indicated that its space cooperation with Russia will continue alongside the collaboration with the US.
"We have a relationship in place with Russia and also with the US," the minister said when asked whether training of India astronauts at NASA facilities would reduce the reliance on Russia in this regard.
India and the US are collaborating to send an Indian astronaut to the International Space Station in 2024, US President Joe Biden said on Thursday after a meeting with Prime Minister Modi at the White House.
A joint statement released after the bilateral talks said Modi and Biden set a course to reach new frontiers across all sectors of space cooperation.
"They welcomed the decision of NASA and ISRO to develop a strategic framework for human spaceflight cooperation by the end of 2023. The leaders hailed the announcement by NASA to provide advanced training to Indian astronauts at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, with a goal of mounting a joint effort to the International Space Station in 2024," the joint statement said.
It said that the leaders celebrated the delivery of the NASA-ISRO Synthetic Aperture Radar (NISAR) satellite to ISRO's U R Rao Satellite Centre and looked forward to its launch from India next year.
The leaders welcomed India's Space Policy-2023 and called for enhanced commercial collaboration between the US and Indian private sectors in the entire value chain of the space economy and to address export controls and facilitate technology transfer.
Biden deeply appreciated India's signing of the Artemis Accords, which advance a common vision of space exploration for the benefit of all humankind.
Prime Minister Modi had announced the Gaganyaan mission during the Independence Day address in 2018 for a possible launch in 2022, the 75th anniversary of Independence.
However, the COVID-19 pandemic upset the timeline and now ISRO plans to undertake the human spaceflight by end of 2024 or early 2025.
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