India makes shortlist of astronauts for first manned space flight

International Space Station (Photo: NASA)
India made an initial shortlist of astronauts for its ambitious mission that will use a locally-made space vehicle to orbit the Earth before 2022.

The Indian Air Force, which is playing a key role in implementing Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s goal of gaining manned space mission capability, has short-listed test pilots after clinical, radiological and physical exercise tests, it said in a Twitter post. It did not give any details on the number of pilots chosen.

The government has previously said at least one of the astronauts in the $1.4 billion mission, ‘Gaganyaan’ (Hindi for spacecraft), will be a woman.

The announcement comes just hours ahead of a scheduled moon landing of an Indian rover, that could make it the first to explore the satellite’s south pole and the fourth to touchdown on its virgin territory without any damage to the vehicle. Modi’s ambitious space plans also include a mission to study the sun next year, another to Venus three years later, and eventually establish its own space station.

India has specialized in low-cost space launches since the early 1960s, when rocket sections were transported by bicycle and assembled by hand inside St. Mary Magdalene Church in Thumba, a fishing village near the tip of the Indian peninsula. Modi announced the manned mission in a dramatic speech on India’s independence day last year, which was reminiscent of U.S. President John F. Kennedy’s announcement in 1961 that pushed NASA to send a man to the moon.

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