The inaugural flight of India's Gaganyaan mission is unlikely to have any woman astronaut because ISRO is looking at test pilots from the armed forces and none of them have any women in that post, a senior official from the space agency said on Wednesday.
Though women appear to be ruled out for the moment, civilians, including women, will be part of future manned missions, the official added. The Indian Space Research Organisation has begun the process of short-listing probable candidates for its first manned mission and it should be completed by next month, he said.
"The short-listing is being done in batches and the candidates will be sent to Russia for training after November after final evaluation," the official said. The first Gaganyaan flight scheduled for 2022 will carry three astronauts, who will be picked from among the test pilots in the armed forces.
"Most maiden missions undertaken by different countries in the past had test pilots. So we are sticking to that for our maiden mission. We are also looking at test pilots from the armed forces which don't have woman as test pilots," the official said.
"The civilians will be part of the project in future missions," he added. India has signed agreements with Russia and France for cooperation on the Gaganyaan mission. Last month, the Cabinet approved setting up an ISRO Technical Liaison Unit in Moscow for smoother cooperation, mainly for the Gaganyaan project.
India's first man in space Rakesh Sharma, who flew aboard the Soyuz T-11, launched on 2 April 1984, was an Indian Air Force pilot. The ambitious Gaganyaan mission was announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his Independence Day speech in 2018.
"We have resolved that by 2022, when India celebrates 75 years of Independence or maybe even before that, certainly some of our young boys and girls will unfurl the tricolour in space... I feel proud to announce that very soon as part of our 'Manned Space' mission, we shall be sending an Indian into space. This will be done through the pursuit of our scientists, and we will proudly find ourselves as the fourth such nation to have launched a successful Manned Space Mission," Modi had said from the Red Fort.
The total fund requirement for the Gaganyaan Programme is nearly Rs. 10,000 crores and includes cost of technology development, flight hardware realisation and essential infrastructure elements. Two unmanned flights and one manned flight will be undertaken as part of Gaganyaan programme.