'Gaganyaan’ Review: A riveting documentary about the challenging journey of India’s human space flight programme

A Potpourri of Vestiges Review

Murtaza Ali Khan

Produced by Miditech Studios, the new discovery+ documentary titled 'Gaganyaan – Bharat ki Antariksh Udaan’ offers a riveting roadmap to the audacious and challenging journey of India’s human space flight programme, from developing the country’s own state of the art cryogenic engine, testing of flights, rigorous astronaut trainings to the final preparations and anticipation before its launch in 2023.

The 45 minute long documentary is supported with archival footage, modern graphical representations of the complex processes and tremendous dangers of human space flight. This fascinating original also recaps the ground-breaking engineering that enabled India to successfully test an unmanned flight with the crew module from launch to re-entry in 2014.

'Gaganyaan – Bharat ki Antariksh Udaan’ features three eminent astronauts viz. Rakesh Sharma, the first Indian to go into space, Sunita Willaims, the elite record-holding woman astronaut of NASA, and the Russian Cosmonaut, Oleg Kotov. Along with them, various experts namely, Dr. G Madhavan Nair (Former Chairman, ISRO), Air Cdre (Rtd) Ravish Malhotra (Former test pilot, IAF), Asif Siddiqi (Space Historian), Dr. Brigitte Godard (Flight Surgeon, European astronaut centre), and other distinguished professionals also lend their expertise on the subject.

This is just the kind of content one expects  from discovery+, country’s first and leading aggregated infotainment streaming platform, which is famously known for engrossing cosmology content among other fun and facts-based content from more than 55 sub-genres. In doing so, discovery+ becomes the first OTT platform to bring to the Indian public this historical journey which will put India on the world stage with other spacefaring nations: Russia, China, and the United States. ‘Gaganyaan’ joins a formidable lineup of  successful and immensely popular cosmological titles like – ‘India's Space Odyssey,’ ‘How The Universe Works,’ ‘Through the Wormhole with Morgan Freeman,’ ‘Space Titans: Musk, Bezos, Branson’ and many more.

Gaganyaan was first announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on August 15, 2018. But no one at the time saw the pandemic coming less than two years later, with scientists and aerospace engineers realizing that going ahead with a manned mission, a complex endeavour with a life at stake even at the best of times, was not something to be rushed. But despite the uncertainty created by the pandemic, the ISRO is marching toward its ambitious India’s maiden human spacelift mission in 2023. It has completed one more crucial test, which will boost the confidence of the scientific community to push the project further.

On May 9, ISRO completed a test called a static test of a human-rated solid rocket booster, simply known as HS200, for the ‘Gaganyaan Mission’. The test was conducted at the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota, Andhra Pradesh. In simple terms, the test was conducted to see the weak spots, if any, in the rocket to be launched. In this process, human intelligence and scientific knowledge are simultaneously applied to check or anticipate weak spots in a spacecraft. Preventing possible accidents is billed as ‘Human Rating’. The process involves several tests with many variables to ensure the safety of a manned spacecraft to reach the goal and return safely to earth. In a way, it’s analysing and understanding the reliability of human-rated rockets against non-human-rated rockets. During the test, ISRO checked 700 parameters and found them all normal.

Interestingly, PM Modi discussed the ‘Gaganyaan Mission’ in his first Mann Ki Baat of the new year and the new decade. “Gaganyaan mission will be a historic achievement in the field of science and technology for India in the 21st century. It will prove to be a milestone for New India,” he had asserted while praising the four pilots of the Indian Airforce who have been selected as astronauts for the mission and their forthcoming training in Russia. “These promising youngsters symbolise India's skill, talent, ability, courage and dreams. Our four friends are about to go to Russia in a few days for their training. I am confident that this would script another golden chapter in India-Russia friendship and cooperation,” he added further.

Watching the documentary one can appreciate the meticulousness that has gone into making it. discovery+ must be commended for making an important documentary film about India’s human space flight programme. Here is an offering that needs to be watched by each and every Indian. 

A version of this review was first published in The Daily Guardian.

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