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NASA and India to cooperate on human space exploration

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, left, and President Joe Biden hold a press briefing on U.S.-India relations. The briefing included remarks on India signing the Artemis Accords. Credit: The White House

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, left, and President Joe Biden hold a press briefing on U.S.-India relations. The briefing included remarks on India signing the Artemis Accords. Credit: The White House

NASA and the Indian Space Research Organisation are set to cooperate on a joint mission to the International Space Station next year, according to the White House.

In a June 22, 2023, joint statement from the United States and India, NASA and ISRO are set to create a framework for human spaceflight cooperation by the end of the year that would include the U.S. space agency training Indian astronauts at Johnson Space Center in Houston. The plan is to mount a joint effort to the ISS in 2024.

Whether this means Indian astronauts would fly to the space station for a six-month expedition or through a short-duration private mission is not yet known.

The statement also said India has signed the Artemis Accords, which is a non-binding agreement between the United States and other countries on the establishment of guiding principles and best practices for space exploration, particularly with the NASA-led Artemis program.

India is the 27th signatory of the Artemis Accords, which includes most of the International Space Station partner nations with the notable exception of Russia.

The announcement came during a visit to the White House by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, which featured a joint press conference with President Joe Biden covering a multitude of topics, including space cooperation.

“By taking the decision to join the Artemis Accords, we have taken a big leap forward in our space cooperation,” Modi said via a translator during the press conference. “For [Indian] and [American] partnership, even the sky is not the limit.”

Additionally, the White House statement celebrated the delivery of the NASA-ISRO Synthetic Aperture Radar satellite, or NISAR, to India for launch sometime next year.

NISAR is a $1.5 billion joint Earth-observation mission to measure the planet’s “changing ecosystems, dynamic surfaces, and ice masses providing information about biomass, natural hazards, sea level rise, and groundwater,” among other applications, according to NASA.

“We look forward to all that we will accomplish here on Earth and in space, including our joint Earth science mission NISAR, and are especially grateful for India’s signing of the Artemis Accords,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson in a tweet. “We can do more when we work together!”

The White House statement said the two countries are looking at other ways to enhance commercial collaboration, including addressing export controls and facilitating technology transfer.

India has been working on developing its own independent access to space via the Gaganyaan spacecraft. This three-person vehicle has been in development since 2007. Because of funding and technical delays, its first crewed flight isn’t expected until at least 2025.

The country has had a series of deep space exploration successes over the last decade, including a Mars orbiter and several lunar orbiters. ISRO also attempted to soft land a spacecraft on the Moon in 2019, however a software issue caused it to crash. India is planning to send another lander to the Moon later this year.

This comes as China becomes more vocal about putting a human on the Moon, something it aims to do before 2030. The country is also planning to build an International Lunar Research Station at the south pole that would support Chinese astronauts and those of its partners, which currently includes Russia, Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates.

The NASA-led Artemis program anticipates landing astronauts on the Moon as early as 2026. However, that timeline is likely to slip as technical delays occur in conjunction with constricting budgets over the next couple years.

Video courtesy of The White House


Derek Richardson has a degree in mass media, with an emphasis in contemporary journalism, from Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas. While at Washburn, he was the managing editor of the student run newspaper, the Washburn Review. He also has a website about human spaceflight called Orbital Velocity. You can find him on twitter @TheSpaceWriter.

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