Swiss astronaut Claude Nicollier, the only European to have been in space four times, assessed that India would be able to send European astronauts into space within seven years.
“Europe does not have autonomous means to send people to space as we have taken a political decision not to do so but India will be sending men into space by 2013-15,” he told HT on Wednesday.
Endorsing his view, Science and Technology Minister Kapil Sibal said, "I think it is well within our capability to do that. We have enormous potential in space technology and satellite launching. Chandrayan is going to be launched very soon. Man in space is not very far behind."
A captain in the Swiss Air Force, Nicollier has logged 7,062 hours of flying time, including 4,000 hours in jet aircraft and more than 1,000 hours in space.
Nicollier's longest space walk was for eight hours and ten minutes during a space flight.
He said it was risky because "we run out of oxygen in eight-and-a-half hours." Nicollier has offered to help India select and train astronauts.
"Director of ISRO's (Indian Space Research Organisation's) Satellite Centre, TK Alex, showed some interest in my offer of training astronauts during a brief discussion I had with him," he said.
Nicollier is in India to deliver talks and share his experiences in space during the celebrations of the 60th year of the Indo-Swiss Friendship Treaty.
For Nicollier going to space was a "childhood dream" come true, he said.
"The experience of being totally weightless - floating in the cabin — is never experienced on earth. We went round the earth 16 times a day," he said.
"The earth looks beautiful and sometimes it's distracting to see the fascinating earth from the window as you have work to do. India looks nice, especially the Himalayas," he said.