An Indian will walk on the moon in 2020. Or so the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) maintains.
At a forthcoming meeting of the country's top scientists on November 7, ISRO will, for the first time, unveil two of its ambitious plans - to send an Indian into space around 2014 and then to have one walk on the moon about six years later. Both missions will be accomplished without any foreign assistance. ISRO will even find a Sanskrit word equivalent for the US's 'astronaut' and Russia's 'cosmonaut' to describe the Indian in space.
G Madhavan Nair, chairman, ISRO, said the proposed missions would be a national endeavour, with the best of the country's laboratories and research-and-development organisations chipping in with technical know-how. The November 7 meeting - which will be attended, among others, by CNR Rao, chairman of the prime minister's Science Advisory Council - will be followed by another in December. A formal project report will be submitted to the government before the end of the year and trials will start in early 2007.
ISRO will conduct a space-capsule-recovery experiment. A 600-kg module, which will be hoisted by a PSLV (Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle) rocket, will orbit the earth for a week and splash down in the Bay of Bengal from where it will be retrieved. The experiment will be repeated in 2008.
"The technology is within our reach," Nair told Hindustan Times. "Initially, the space journey will be for a week. The lunar mission will be for 15 days or a month."
According to the plan, a GSLV Mark II rocket will take off from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre, Sriharikota, with a three-tonne space capsule and two people on board. About 16 minutes after liftoff, the rocket will eject the capsule into an orbit 400 km from the earth. The capsule will orbit the earth — for a day to start with, and for a week in subsequent flights — before its splash down. The voyage to the moon will mean a mission of longer duration.
But prior to that much needs to be done down on earth. ISRO will have to design and roll out equipment, including a space capsule. A training centre — with a zero gravity chamber- too has to be constructed.
Sources in ISRO said the space voyage had the backing of President APJ Abdul Kalam.
On ISRO's giant leap forward, Nair said, "If humans do not venture into space, the future will not be bright. I don't think we can lag behind in this race. We must be in the forefront."
While many like Nair's predecessors UR Rao and K Kasturirangan say there is a need for an Indian presence in space, there are differences of opinion in ISRO, with some scientists favouring a robot - rather than a man - in space. But Nair said, "I subscribe to the view that no robot or instrument can substitute the human brain."
The budget for the man-in-space project is estimated to be Rs 10,000 crore-15,000 crore. The moon mission will cost much more.