Getting products for Gaganyaan astronauts a stiff challenge: IAF specialists

Humans 'introduce a level of uncertainty to everything' said Commodore Agarwal which throws a big challenge, especially to ISRO designers.

Published: 16th November 2019 05:30 AM  |   Last Updated: 16th November 2019 11:28 AM   |  A+A-

Representational Image. (File | EPS)

Representational Image.

Express News Service

BENGALURU: With the Gaganyaan team racing against time to launch the mission by October 2022, designers of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and doctors of the Indian Air Force have a huge task ahead of them — to create hundreds of products fit for use in space by Indian astronauts while on the country’s first manned space mission.

At a conference by the Indian Society of Aerospace Medicine (ISAM), Commandant of Institute of Aerospace Medicine (IAM) Commodore Anupam Agarwal cautioned about the long time required to make hundreds of such products, which is one of the aspects making the mission challenging, especially while putting the astronauts in a spacecraft revolving around earth at an altitude of 400 km for about a week.

Humans “introduce a level of uncertainty to everything” said Commodore Agarwal which throws a big challenge, especially to ISRO designers.

Taking a “dreaded example” of a mere ‘barf’ bag (puke bag used in altitude sickness), he pointed to the possibility of it exploding if not designed properly — unlike in a commercial flight where the contents drop down to the bottom. A bag in space with zero-gravity would require it to be sealed at the mouth, and keeping it for prolonged time would only cause the bacteria to produce gas — and then explode.

Hence, it would require innovative technologies, for instance microgel (as those in diapers and sanitary napkins) coated with disinfectants, to solve the issue. However, this would require at least six months. “If there are 300 such things to be made for a human being, then we are looking at a very long time to make such products,” he said.

‘Indian Jugaad with deadlines’

Officials of the medical team of the Indian Air Force said they had to use ‘Indian Jugaad’ to beat tight deadlines during the Gaganyaan astronaut selection process — especially when selecting candidates to be sent to Russia’s Star City for a final nod for the space mission.  The team was tasked to finalise 12 candidates for Gaganyaan.

Hence, a team of 24 super-fit test pilots were forwarded by the IAF and screened in six weeks.  Of them, the Russian selection committee selected only seven in the first round, though ISRO required a team of 12.
The team of IAF doctors screened 36 candidates in just three weeks. Of the second batch sent from that screening -- 15 candidates -- they were able to select 12 fit-for-mission astronauts.

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