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Science 23 Jan 2020 Dear ISRO, do astron ...

Dear ISRO, do astronauts have to be fighter pilots? Why not a doctor?

Published Jan 23, 2020, 11:46 pm IST
Updated Feb 6, 2020, 6:43 pm IST
Veteran astronauts from around the world advise ISRO to throw doors of its space mission wider open
Is that you, Doc? Astronauts recommend diversity to ISRO.
 Is that you, Doc? Astronauts recommend diversity to ISRO.

Bengaluru: Astronauts from across the world held out a message to the Indian Space Research Organisation: Don’t just select fighter pilots to man space missions, throw the doors open to doctors, scientists, engineers and others as well.

Why? If all crew members are combat pilots, they will think alike should a problem arise during the mission. If the crew included a doctor, engineer, scientist or even a scuba diver, chances are he or she will think up a different solution.


This new formulation for astronaut selection emerged at a discussion among astronauts from France, Germany, the United States, United Arab Emirates (UAE) and a lone cosmonaut from Russia held in Bengaluru on Thursday. It was part of an international symposium on ‘Human Spaceflight and Exploration: Present Challenges and Future Trends.’

It was in fact Sultan al Nayadi of the UAE who had the brainwave. Al Nayadi was the backup to a Hazza Mansouri, the first Emirati astronaut to fly to the International Space Station last year. Prior to his astronaut training in Russia, he did a PhD in information technology and worked as network security expert for the UAE military.

“Being an engineer helped me a lot as we have the mindset to deal with equipment and communicate with colleagues who are working in different modules,” al Nayadi said at the astronaut conclave.

“I know that many people think that pilots are the most suitable candidates for space flight, but then everyone can provide inputs to make a flight successful, whether it is a doctor or an engineer."

Starting Yuri Gagarin of Russia and Alan Shepard of the U.S., astronauts in the first few decades of space flight tended to be from the air force. Although Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman in space, was a textile worker before she became an astronaut, she too trained with the Soviet air force.

It was Russia which first took the initiative to diversify the crew from pilots to engineers, but it was NASA’s Space Shuttle programme that really opened the doors to non-military mission personnel such as scientists, scuba divers, a teacher--the ill-fated Christa McAuliffe.

At the Bengaluru symposium, French astronaut Jean-Francois Clervoy said that future missions such as the one planned to Mars will present many psychological challenges to the crew. A diverse pool of talent will increase the possibility of evolving innovative solutions to problems, he said.

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