The ambitious plans of India’s space chief S. Somanath

Sreedhara Panicker Somanath is a devout Hindu. It was therefore a matter of course for him to ask for divine assistance with his employees in a temple before the start of the moon mission “Chandrayaan 3” on Friday. At the beginning of September 2019, Somanath, who has been head of the Indian space agency ISRO for a year and a half, had to experience that the technology should not be trusted blindly. At that time, the unmanned space probe “Chandrayaan 2” crashed shortly before landing on the earth’s satellite, which was a bitter disappointment for the aspiring space nation. Now, under his leadership – and with divine support – everything should go smoothly. And if the landing of “Chandrayaan 3” succeeds on August 23 or 24, India would become the fourth nation to land on the moon after the US, the Soviet Union and China.

Somanath was born in 1963 in Thuravoor in the state of Kerala in southwestern India. When the first attempt at a moon landing failed four years ago, he was still head of the Vikram Sarabhai space center in Kerala’s capital, Thiruvananthapuram. From 2018 to 2022 he was mainly responsible for the development of Indian satellites and powerful launch vehicles. Among other things, the Chandrayaan lunar probes could be brought into space with their thrust. Should the difficult landing on the south pole of the moon and the planned two-week reconnaissance mission in the difficult terrain succeed, it would not only be a personal triumph for the aeronautical engineer. It would also be a good starting point for India’s ambitious space plans, the success of which Somanath will be the key contributor to for years to come.

Manned missions planned

In the near future, ISRO wants to send its own astronauts into space with an Indian spaceship. A permanently inhabited space station in Earth orbit is also in the pipeline. ISRO also intends to send unmanned space probes to Venus and Mars. India has already shown in 2014 with the Mars mission “Mangalyaan-1” that it can carry out interplanetary space flights. The probe orbited the red planet for around seven and a half years.

India, which has close ties with Russia in space, is also becoming increasingly attractive to the United States. ISRO is to become a partner in NASA’s Artemis mission, which aims to establish a space station in lunar orbit and load astronauts onto the moon. Maybe Somanath can even book a ride for Indian astronauts to the moon with his American counterpart.

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