Tuesday, May 30, 2023

US to train Indian astronauts, cooperate on planetary defence

The US will provide advanced training for an Indian astronaut and the two countries will cooperate on planetary defence against dangerous asteroids and comets, according to the White House.

Strengthening cooperation in human space flight through an exchange that includes advanced training for an Indian astronaut at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, was among the initiatives launched at the inaugural meeting of the US-India initiative on Critical and Emerging Technology (iCET) in Washington on Tuesday, the White House said.

National Security Advisers (NSA) Ajit Doval of India and Jake Sullivan of the US led the iCET meeting at which space, scientific, defence and commerce officials participated.

Another initiative at the iCET meeting was to include planetary defence in the agenda of the US-India Civil Space Joint Working Group (CSJWG), according to the White House.

The US planetary defence programme monitors asteroids and comets to identify those that can potentially cause harm to the earth and issue warnings and develop actions to mitigate their effect.

Cooperation with the US on manned space flight would be a departure for India, which has so far relied on the Soviet Union and, after its dissolution, with Russia.

India, which plans to send astronauts as early as next year on board the Gaganyaan spacecraft, has been training four astronauts in Russia under an agreement with that country’s Glavkosmos organisation.

While astronauts from several countries, including Saudi Arabia, have flown on NASA space missions, none from India have.

The only Indian citizen to have been in outer space is Rakesh Sharma, a former Air Force pilot who flew on a Soviet Soyuz mission in 1984.

Other initiatives from the iCET meeting, according to the White House, include strengthening bilateral commercial space partnerships through the US Commerce Department and the Indian Department of Space.

Earlier, Indian and US space officials held two days of discussions on several areas of cooperation at a two-day meeting of the CSJWG on Monday and Tuesday covered collaboration in human space flights, Earth and space science as well as global navigation satellite systems, spaceflight safety and space situational awareness, and policies for commercial space activities, according to the State Department.

The meeting was co-chaired by Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Jennifer Littlejohn and National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Associate Administrator Karen Feldstein on the US side and by Shantanu Bhatawdekar, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) Scientific Secretary on the Indian side.

A highlight of the NASA-ISRO cooperation is the Synthetic Aperture Radar (NISAR) mission, planned for next year.

It is expected to systematically map Earth, using two different radar frequencies to monitor resources such as water, forests and agriculture.

It will provide information about ecosystems, the Earth’s surface, natural hazards, sea level rise and the cryosphere, the frozen parts of the earth, with applications in forestry, agriculture and ecology.

According to NASA, it will also help with providing prompt responses to natural and human-created disasters.

NASA head Bill Nelson and Executive Secretary of the National Space Council Chirag Parikh gave the welcoming remarks for the meeting and ISRO Chairman S Somanath and Taranjit Singh Sandhu spoke.

While no Indian citizen has been on US space missions, four Indian-Americans have.

Those who flew on NASA missions are Kalpana Chawla, who died in the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster in 2003, Sunita Williams and Raja Chari.

Sirisha Bandla flew on a very brief private-sector Virgin Galactic test flight in 2021.


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