(Gaganyaan Unplugged is an Onmanorama series that will get you all exciting happenings from India''s manned mission.)
Bengaluru: The four Indian Air Force (IAF) Test Pilots selected for the Gaganyaan mission began their year-long training programme in Russia this February. This training will get them closer to the challenges they could encounter while undertaking the mission, expected to be in 2022.
All the pilots are currently at the Gagarin Research & Test Cosmonaut Training Centre (GCTC) in Russia.
In this edition of 'Gaganyaan Unplugged,' the third part of our series, Glavkosmos Director General Dmitry Loskutov shares some insights about the training with Onmanorama.
Glavkosmos is a subsidiary of the Russian State Space Corporation Roscosmos and has a contract with the Human Spaceflight Centre (HSFC) of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).
"Russia's tremendous expertise in human spaceflight makes our training programme the most complex and difficult one in the world. As a result of this, all the astronaut trainees will be ready to act adequately in any unexpected or emergency situation," says Loskutov.
Glavkosmos & India
Russia and India share a long history of cooperation in space exploration. The first Indian cosmonaut Rakesh Sharma flew aboard the Soviet Soyuz T-11 launched on April 2, 1984 as part of mission to help Soviet Union's allies and non-allied nations with manned and unmanned space missions.
Glavkosmos has also contributed to the cooperation of Russia and India. In 1988, the Indian satellite IRS-1A was launched from Baikonur, followed by the IRS-2B and IRS-1C satellites. Our company took an active part in those launches.
In 1991, we signed a contract for the development and delivery of a batch of cryogenic oxygen-hydrogen blocks for the third stage of the Indian GSLV rocket. Later, Glavkosmos also designed and supplied equipment for upgrading the cryogenic test facilities in Mahendragiri.
Today, we are working closely on the Gaganyaan programme, which is important for both India and Russia. It can become a great example of our cooperation in the 21st century.
Story so far
For all Soviet and Russian cosmonauts, training at the GCTC facilities was and continues to be obligatory. The active cosmonauts engaged in manned space missions take additional regular training courses.
Moreover, training at GCTC is a mandatory part of training for NASA, ESA, and JAXA astronauts before the flight to the International Space Station (ISS).
In fact, all people from abroad who flew to the Soviet space station Mir and later to the ISS were trained at GCTC.
Since 1978, GCTC has been active in the field of manned international programs. Among the cosmonauts trained at GCTC were representatives of Czechoslovakia, Poland, Germany, Bulgaria, Hungary, Vietnam, Cuba, Mongolia, Romania, France, India, Syria, Afghanistan, Japan, England, Austria, USA, Sweden, Spain, and the United Arab Emirates.
A total of 84 foreign cosmonauts and astronauts from 19 countries flew on Russian manned spaceships to the ISS and 33 cosmonauts flew to the Mir space station.
We continue this tradition and astronauts from the countries developing their national human space programmes come to Russia and train at GCTC.
Since its foundation in 1985, Glavkosmos has been involved in missions on launching foreign astronauts into space. First, it was done under the Interkosmos Programme, and then under separate agreements very similar to those reached between Glavkosmos and HSFC (ISRO).
The US businessman Dennis Tito is considered to be the first space tourist. Нe went on a spaceflight in April 2001. However, the first truly commercial spaceflight was that of the Japanese journalist Toyohiro Akiyama in December of 1990. The spaceflight was performed under the contract between Glavkosmos and Tokyo Broadcasting System.
In recent years, the flights of cosmonauts from Kazakhstan and UAE have been the most significant ones. In 2015, Aidyn Aimbetov, the first cosmonaut of the independent Kazakhstan, flew to the ISS. Glavkosmos contributed to the implementation of the contract between KazCosmos and Roscosmos.
The first astronaut from UAE Hazzaa Al Mansoori flew to the ISS and safely returned to Earth last October. The mission was also prepared with participation of Glavkosmos. All these astronauts were trained at GCTC too.
Challenges then & now
The challenges and difficulties are probably still the same (compared to Rakesh Sharma's mission). The outer space continues to be a very hostile and dangerous place for us, the earthlings.
What has really changed from the times when Rakesh Sharma flew aboard the Soyuz T-11 is technology. The modern Russian manned ships have become safer, more comfortable and reliable; we use advanced space technologies in every module, block and unit of the Soyuz manned spaceship.
Moreover, since the space station Mir no longer exists and we all fly to the ISS – all that means that the preparation and training processes have consequently changed.
Humankind has already gained good understanding of the specifics of human stay in the low earth orbit (LEO), its difficulties, and the training necessary to overcome them. Now such things as travelling to the Moon, Mars, and deep space are a global challenge for all of us.
The training takes place at GCTC. The general training programme for the Indian astronaut trainees will last for one year, and I would like to emphasize that it is only the Russian part of their training and preparation; they will also be trained in India.
The process will include comprehensive medical and biological training combined with regular physical practice. The four astronaut trainees will also be studying in detail the systems of the Soyuz manned spaceship, all its parts and nodes.
They will also be trained for the case of abnormal landing of the descent module in various climate and geography zones, i.e., if the descent module lands in marshy or forested terrain in winter, or in a river, or sea.
During the scheduled flights aboard the Il-76MDK aircraft, they will be trained in short-term weightlessness mode. I am sure that all four of them have already experienced weightlessness, because they have served as Test Pilots.
During their training course, they will be taught to act rationally, to move and operate in weightlessness environment. The Il-76MDK airplane is specially designed and constructed for this purpose.
The four IAF Test Pilots will be also trained in special simulators that imitate working in outer space. That will be very useful during spacewalks for technical maintenance or for scientific experiments outside a space vehicle.
Interestingly, not only military pilots can become astronauts. Many go this way, which is quite pragmatic if we remember that Yuri Gagarin and the members of the first Russian corps of cosmonauts were fighter pilots. That makes sense since the training sessions are very similar.
But now-a-days there are a lot of cosmonauts and astronauts who have civil professions as their major background, they are not pilots at all.
Features of GCTC
Major activities of GCTC include organization of cosmonaut selection and training of cosmonauts, medical examination, post-flight medical maintenance and rehabilitation of cosmonauts, medical and biological experiments after spaceflights.
The training center also deals with development, arrangement, and modernization of ground-based facilities used for cosmonaut training.
GCTC also carries out research related to human spaceflight problems.
We have set up the Pandemic Response Group at Glavkosmos from March 26 and have been monitoring the health status of all employees. This will not affect any of Glavkosmos' contractual obligations. The Indian astronaut trainees are in healthy and we have been constantly observing them. They are preparing for their exams independently. I can say that they have completed almost 25 per cent of the training programme.
(The writer is an independent aerospace and defence journalist, who blogs at Tarmak007 and tweets @writetake.)