Jitendra Singh: The first life form India is sending to space is a human

Rekha Dixit talks to Dr Jitendra Singh Minister of State for Space and Atomic Energy in connection with India’s space mission.

Excerpts of the interview

The target date for Gaganyaan is 40 months from now. Will India be ready?
Yes. Forty months is nearly four years. The technology is almost ready. We have begun the process of identifying the parameters for the three astronauts. Their training will take a maximum of three years. 2022 is our cut-off, to coincide with the 75th year of independence, but the aim is to be ready before that.
You said three Indians. Will that be the crew composition?
We are aiming for three, though the final decision will be taken later. We will identify more for training, though, for backup.
A human space flight is a natural dream of every spacefaring nation. But what do we hope to achieve from the flight, beyond establishing we can fly?
We will first establish the advancement of our space programme. The first life form we are sending to space is a human; that says a lot about our confidence in ourselves.
Our space programme started much later than other countries but the cumulative outcome of our missions has given us a good reputation.
Scientifically, every venture out of earth is also a learning process to improve living conditions on earth. Understanding microgravity is an ongoing process; we will add inputs for the global community.
There are ancillary benefits, like opening up space medicine as a branch in India. Will we look at an Indian space station, next?
That is a decision to be taken later, depending on the outcome of the human flight and the requirements for a station. But, we already have a laboratory [unmanned] in space-Astrosat-which is an advanced multi-wavelength astronomy observatory.
Where will India’s space programme be by 2050?
Despite our late start, we are already on par with other spacefaring nations. In some areas like affordable technology and small satellite launches, we are the leaders. I see India as a global leader in space science and technology.
I also see India using a lot more of space-acquired data and technology for making life better on earth. In 2015, PM Modi asked ISRO to brainstorm with all ministries on how to use space technology. The full potential of ISRO’s knowledge was not being used, despite India’s objective to use space science for betterment of humanity.
Now, apart from tele-medicine and tele-education, several infrastructural ministries are harnessing space technology. Railways are using it to handle unmanned railway crossings. The soil health card scheme was launched using satellite data.
For many projects, loans are disbursed after the user furnishes utilisation of the first instalment. Now, it is easier to get this proof by showing satellite images, thus making the process tamper-proof and transparent.
The Week