ISRO was flooded with requests from Indians wanting to become astronauts

Indian Human Spaceflight Programme (HSP)
The Human Space Flight Centre (HSFC) of ISRO inside the Antariksh Bhavan, situated in Bengaluru. Photo: ISRO

Bengaluru: The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) was in 'deep trouble' till recently. ISRO insiders confirm they were so 'helpless' and at one point even a bit 'clueless' to arrest the situation.

Insiders at ISRO felt making critical systems that can reach Moon, Mars and beyond was a manageable task. But, to encounter a 'communication tornado' that hit them out of the blue was indeed difficult.

So, what was the problem that flummoxed India's top space brains? And, how did ISRO chairman Kailasavadivoo Sivan and team manage it?

Ever since Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the ambitious, big ticket Indian Human Spaceflight Programme (HSP) – Gaganyaan – from the ramparts of Red Fort on August 15, 2018, the 'virtual trouble' began at Antariksh Bhavan, the ISRO headquarters in Bengaluru.

Indians across the globe were soon locked on to ISRO and somehow wanted to be part of the mission.

Unmindful of what it takes to be an astronaut, millions of Indians started every possible means of communication to reach out to Dr Sivan and team.

The flurry of requests and suggestions came in many forms. While majority bombarded all public email IDs with their queries, the postal department too had a tough time in delivering letters from anxious, wannabe astronauts.

From emails to letters to phone calls, the ISRO HQ received non-stop queries from Indians who were keen to join the Gaganyaan mission.

While some were keen to become astronauts or Ganganauts, there were many others who wanted to contribute to this mission.

ISRO was flooded with requests from Indians wanting to become astronauts!
ISRO stalwarts, past and present, in front of the model of the crew module at HSFC. Photo: ISRO

From graduates to PhD-holders, all were keen to get onboard the Gaganyaan mission.

Passionate letters, emails

The many letters that reached ISRO officials told of the aspirants' passion and urgency.

"I am from Jind in Haryana, 22 years old and want to be part of the crew to be selected for Gaganyaan programme. Please provide me information on the selection process," reads an email that also gives her complete address and other details.

Another email from a computer science engineering graduate gives a bit of history into her love for space and aeronautics.

"I have always been attracted to anything related to space, be it space walk or other scientific, physical experiments, including flying aircraft. As I know that a team of 3-4 would be heading into space, it would be of great help if you could give me details of becoming part of it," says an email.

A branch manager with Karnataka Bank was keen to join the project, though he knew he wasn't qualified enough to do the 'space walk.'

"I am very much interested to become part of this project. I am not a technically-qualified person. But I am very much confident to attend this project. If there's any possibility, kindly accept my application," reads a communication.

ISRO was flooded with requests from Indians wanting to become astronauts!
The crew module that was used for the pad abort test (PAT) as part of the Gaganyaan pre-mission trials. Photo: Onmanorma

Interestingly, a 19-year-old student doing his undergraduate course in political science from Delhi University thought the first manned space mission of India was aimed to go to the Moon.

"I am sure this is a mission sending humans to the Moon. Sir, I want to go to the Moon. Please help me or suggest me how can I go?" he pleads.

Queries kept pouring in from Indians working and studying across the globe.

"I am happy to share that I have interned with ISRO earlier before moving to UK. I wish to be an astronaut and will be learning more about the same during my course here. I wish to contribute back to my country. Hope I am given an opportunity be part of Gaganyaan mission," says another mail.

A passionate letter from a girl from Kerala also sought all details of astronaut selection process for Gaganyaan.

"Now, I am 16 years old (Class IX) and strongly believe that I have a lot of perseverance for the mission's success. I am popular in my school for sports, public speaking and studies and I am the school leader as well. Please don't avoid me and please remember to send me the selection details," reads the email.

Interestingly, ISRO sources say that Dr Sivan had directed all officials to respond to as many emails/letters as possible, especially from youngsters.

Few officials were tasked with replying to all the emails that came towards the end of 2017, 2018 and 2019.

The fact remains that there seems to be no end to ISRO's 'worries' even after the Indian Air Force (IAF) shortlisted four Test Pilots for the mission.

One of the four pilots, now undergoing training at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center (GCTC) in Russia, is likely to be picked up for the maiden mission.

"The queries still keep coming now, but the flow has reduced. The news of selection process is known to many. We don't disappoint anyone and try and reply to all emails that has proper credentials," says an official.

Many wanted to fly

ISRO was flooded with requests from Indians wanting to become astronauts!
The humanoid named Vyommitra unveiled by ISRO as part of the Gaganyaan mission. Photo: Onmanorma

ISRO Chairman Dr K Sivan told Onmanorama that the Gaganyaan mission got both national and global attention after PM's announcement.

He said the people in India, the Indian diaspora at large as well and other space faring agencies are following Gaganyaan programme with great interest.

"Lot of young people wanted to contribute in Gaganyaan programme. Some of them wanted to be the first to fly in the crew module. ISRO has a well established mechanism of handling public response and the same is being done for Gaganyaan programme also," Dr Sivan.

According to him, the one message ISRO wanted to convey to the young people is that working in the field of research and development is all about hard work and passion.

"It is not a very high paying job or glamorous job. The salary is one of the best for a fresher. More than salary, it is the job satisfaction and the knowledge of contributing for national development. ISRO is one of the best employers and the reason for that is that attrition rate is very low," he says.

Dr Sivan says that the people looking to work for ISRO must know that they are in for a long haul.

"ISRO has a very transparent recruitment process. As of now only Indian citizens are eligible to apply," he adds.

(Gaganyaan Unplugged is an Onmanorama series that will get you all exciting happenings from India's manned mission. The writer is an independent aerospace and defence journalist, who blogs at Tarmak007 and tweets @writetake.)

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