India’s first manned space mission: Just four years away

By Melvin Durai

The Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) unveiled a spacesuit at the
recent Bengaluru Space Expo, creating much excitement in the Indian space
community. The spacesuit is what astronauts will wear during India’s first
manned space mission in 2022.

Let me clarify that: the mission won’t just be manned ”“ it will also be
womanned. The three-person crew on the space flight Gaganyaan is expected
to consist of two men and one woman.

They will not be the first Indians in outer space, of course. That
distinction belongs to Rakesh Sharma, who went into space in 1984 through
pure Indian ingenuity: he traveled to Russia, learned the language and
snuck aboard the Soviet rocket Soyuz T-11. By the time the Soviets
discovered him, it was too late.

Actually, Sharma went into space through an agreement between ISRO and the
Soviet space program. He spent 7 days, 21 hours and 40 minutes in space.
Upon returning home, he met then-Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, who asked
him how India looked from outer space. “The best in the world,” he
replied, and that was the last time the Russians invited an Indian to
travel with them.

Since then, the Indian space program has made great strides, launching
numerous satellites into space and sending Chandrayaan-1 to the moon and
Mangalayaan to Mars. Each of those was an unmanned mission, intended to
gather vital information. Before Indians can consider living on another
planet, they need to find out important details, such as whether chili
plants can be grown there.

ISRO is now preparing to take the next step: sending humans into space.
The trio of astronauts will spend seven days orbiting the earth at an
altitude of about 400 km. Looking down on earth from that altitude, they
will be able to see only a few landmarks, such as the great pyramids of
Egypt, Mount Everest, and Mukesh Ambani’s house.

The three astronauts have not been selected yet, but will come from the
Indian Air Force and ISRO.   Rakesh Sharma, in case you’re wondering, is
now 69, retired from the Air Force and probably not interested in
returning to space. He may change his mind, however, when he’s 78 and can
participate in the Indian pastime of breaking world records. (The late
John Glenn was 77 when he became the oldest person to travel in space in

Sharma will surely be excited to watch the launch of Gaganyaan,
quadrupling the number of Indians who have been to space. The astronauts
will wear bright orange spacesuits that have four layers and weigh less
than 5 kg. Each suit is equipped with an oxygen cylinder that allows an
astronaut to breathe for an hour outside a spacecraft. I’m not sure if the
spacesuits are equipped with charging stations for cellphones, but if not,
ISRO may have trouble getting young people to join the astronaut program.

It’s quite an honor to be selected as an astronaut, but it also takes a
lot of courage. Anytime you leave the earth, you are putting your life at
risk. Not only do you have to worry about potential equipment failure, you
also face the risk, however slim, of encountering space aliens.

Just getting on an airplane makes me nervous, so I can’t imagine being in
a spacecraft headed to outer space.

Me: “Oh no, I don’t know if I can take this.”

Fellow astronaut: “Don’t worry, the launch will be over in 15 minutes. We
are just orbiting the earth.”

Me: “Has this ever been done before?”

Astronaut: “Yes, several times. But not by India.”

Me (trembling): “Is it too late to change my mind?”

Astronaut: “Don’t worry. Just focus on the positives. We are making
history. Even if we are unable to return to earth, we will have made

Me: “Abort mission! Abort mission!”

Melvin Durai is an Indiana-based writer and humorist, author
of the humorous novel “Bala Takes the Plunge.” A
native of India, he grew up in Zambia and has lived in North
America since the early 1980s. Read his humor blog at   Write to him at

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