The selection of Anil Menon, an American of Indian origin, as one of the 10 future astronauts by NASA marks a new turning point in the history of space missions. He is a pilot of the American Air Force who played a critical role in several flight operations to save lives. He is a medical doctor. The 10 will undergo two years of training so that they can perform various kinds of roles that are key to any space mission. They will be trained to conduct various experiments, both on board and in space as well as to walk on the lunar surface. In short, they will meet the future needs of America’s space missions.
One noticeable feature of the American space programme is the involvement of the private sector. During the Apollo days, when Neil Armstrong set his foot first on the moon, space missions were purely a NASA enterprise. Today, there are private companies which even charge money from passengers wishing to go to space and return.
When Rakesh Sharma was picked up by the Soviet Union to be a cosmonaut in the 80s, the Indian space programme was in its infancy. Today, the ISRO is capable of planning even a manned mission to the moon but it cannot be expected to shoulder the whole responsibility of India’s space missions.
The private sector, too, could play a role that would complement the ISRO’s. Together, they can make India as capable as China in space technology. The recent launching of Spaceport Sarabhai, a think tank, to bring about greater cooperation between the public and private sectors in space technology is a step in the right direction. The selection of Anil Menon is a case in point.