NASA/ISRO deal: No Shuttle seat for India

by Chris Bergin

NASA administrator Mike Griffin said that he’d be happy to allow an Indian to fly on a Shuttle mission – but noted all the seats have now been taken for the remaining 17 missions.

Griffin made his comments after signing a deal with the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) to send American scientific instruments on board Chandrayaan-I, India’s first moon mission, in 2008.

American/Indian, Sunita Williams, will fly on the next Shuttle mission (STS-121) this summer – becoming the second astronaut of that background to ride on the Shuttle, following Kalpana Chawla, who sadly died when Columbia broke up on re-entry on STS-107.

‘We are restricting the space shuttle flights to only those missions necessary for completing the International Space Station (ISS) and one mission for the Hubble space telescope, there is no seat left for an Indian trained astronaut on board the shuttle over the next four years,’ Griffin said at the press conference in Bangalore to announce the NASA deal with India.

‘We could not train an Indian astronaut at the Johnson Space Centre last year although we would have been happy to do that. In view of the existing agreements we have with the other member countries for the ISS and other constraints, we could not promise a flight for the Indian trained astronaut though we will be happy train one.’

Griffin had warm words for the progress India has made over recent years, as NASA clearly aims for a long-term alliance, one that could aid India via the US’ vast experience – and in return ease pressure on NASA’s budget concerns for the VSE (Vision for Space Exploration) – which would be aided by India’s interest in tagging along.

‘It is my hope and belief that as we extend the reach of human civilization throughout the solar system, the United States and India will be partners on many more technically challenging and scientifically rewarding projects,’ Griffin said.

‘I very much look forward to the opportunity to see first hand India’s impressive space facilities, to meet with your scientists and engineers and to learn more about your remarkable work.’

‘We have not made up our mind on whether to go for a manned mission. It will take a few years or so to decide on such a mission,’ ISRO chairman G Madhavan Nair added.

‘We are in the process of evaluating such a project, especially around the earth and lunar orbits. When the requirements come for manned or robotic space missions, we will definitely look at such an opportunity.’

Chandrayaan-1, a lunar orbiter, is expected to launch in late 2007 or early 2008. It is a truly international mission, with payloads from Europe as well as the United States.

NASA’s contribution includes the Moon Mineralogy Mapper, a NASA Discovery Program mission of opportunity designed to assess mineral resources of the moon. A second NASA instrument, Mini-SAR, will look for ice deposits in the moon’s polar regions.

Data from the two instruments will contribute to NASA’s increased understanding of the lunar environment as it implements the VSE, which calls for robotic and human exploration of the moon’s surface.

             LIVE UPDATE PAGES

Related Articles