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The Last Frontier – Human Spaceflight Programme

It is the next logical step for our technologically advancing nation coming on its own that the Indian scientists aspire to explore the last frontier – Man in Space. The scientific know-how and the determination to prove itself amongst the exclusive manned space mission club is what spurs our space scientists to take up the challenge of the coming decade to launch our own men and women in space. Indian Space Research Organisation’s (ISRO) continuing success in proving its prowess in rocket launch technology and carrying commercial cargo into space logically gives the nation the confidence of its success in manned mission in space.  ISRO has already demonstrated this with Chandrayan-1, besides having made their intent known to launch manned missions as early as circa 2015-17.

Would there be a role for practitioners of Aerospace Medicine in ISRO’s proposed manned missions? The brief answer is yes!

But the moot question is as to how would ISRO go about it? Would there be a cooperation between ISRO and the Institute of Aerospace Medicine (IAM)? Would ISRO need its own team of Aerospace Medicine specialists? Would there be  a need for outsourcing or hiring consultants? The answer to these questions is that the manned space flight or the Human Spaceflight Programme (HSP), as it is known, shall be a judicious mix of it all to provide the best opportunity without compromising safety for the future manned missions.

Unlike NASA, which has its dedicated pool of Aerospace Medicine specialists and life sciences scientists and related infrastructure, ISRO lacks it all. On the other hand, IAM played a significant role way back in early eighties when medical evaluation and selection of cosmonauts for the Indo-Russian joint space programme was undertaken. Subsequently selection of payload specialist for a joint mission with the United States helped IAM further its knowledge base in the field of Space Medicine, even though this joint mission did not fructify.

However things are different this time around and the need goes beyond the evaluation and selection of astronauts. There is a large gamut of activities including astronaut screening, selection, training and monitoring during the sojourn and their safe return to terra firma and post-flight care. It is entirely ISRO’s prerogative whether to shake hands with IAM to provide this support, outsource it or build its own dedicated corps of Aerospace Medicine specialists for HSP.

Considering the road map ahead and ISRO’s stated intent of establishing its own ‘Star City’ or Astronaut Training Centre in Bangalore, it is prudent that ISRO builds up its own dedicated Aerospace Medicine team for ease of integration with its professional space scientists for the common purpose of well-being and safety of the astronauts under all circumstances. In the short term, depending on their requirements, whether they seek IAM’s help or hire consultants for helping them set up the required system in place, is entirely a choice to be made by ISRO.

Nevertheless, it shall be interesting to watch the unfolding of events leading to the launch of the first manned flight from the Indian soils. Success of this awaited prestigious moment shall be defined by the toil, efforts and the devoted professionalism that ISRO is known for, with practitioners of Aerospace Medicine becoming their youngest but trusted comrades in arms.

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