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Gaganyaan mission: Recruiters prefer astronauts with sound dental, emotional fitness for final selection


BENGALURU: Healthy teeth and emotional well-being are two of the most crucial attributes being looked for by Russians who, along with the Indian Air Force medical team from the Institute of Aerospace Medicine (IAM), are involved in selecting the final batch of astronauts for India’s first manned space mission Gaganyaan, scheduled to be launched any time between 2021-end and October 2022.

The Russians are particularly sensitive about astronauts having faultless dental health, probably because of certain bad experiences their cosmonauts may have had while on space missions, according to an IAM official involved in the astronaut selection process.

A senior classified aviation specialist from IAM said that good dental health is an absolute necessity for the candidate to make it through rigorous tests to be held in Russia.

He and four other IAM officials involved in the selections said that emotional fitness is also significant, considering that the astronauts would be exposed to an isolated environment inside the spacecraft, for about six days in a low-earth orbit.

The selection process is extremely gruelling for Indian candidates, all of whom are test pilots from the Indian Air Force. The candidates are required to sign up for four major tests, ranging from a 5km-long run, 2,000-plus questions and tests designed by psychologists, to clinical assessments and dentistry, a senior IAM official, Group Captain (Dr) MS Nataraja said.

IAM commandant Air Commodore Anupam Agarwal (VSM) pointed to humans being the most challenging aspect to the mission as they “introduce a level of uncertainty to everything”.

The Gaganyaan candidates are in level two of the four-level selection process. The first level pertains to the candidate’s personal information and physical fitness; the second is about medical and psychological screening tests; third, advanced medical, aeromedical and psychological tests under stressful conditions; and fourth is about screening at IAM, ISRO, foreign facility, basic training, advanced training, and mission-specific training.

While the first three levels are for selection, the final one is for training. The IAM is tasked with preparing 12 astronaut candidates out of a batch of pre-selected 24 test pilots in medical category A1G1, fully fit test pilots.