Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) Chairman K Sivan on Wednesday informed that four ace pilots of the Indian Air Force (IAF) have been selected for India’s maiden manned mission ‘Gaganyaan’ around the earth’s orbit by 2022.

“We have selected 4 IAF pilots for our first manned space mission in 2021-22. Three of them will go into space to orbit around the earth for a week and conduct experiments in micro-gravity and bio-science,” Sivan told reporters but did not reveal their identities or names.

The quartet will undergo training in Russia from the third week of this month for becoming the first Indian crew to go into space from native soil.

“The four pilots have undergone medical tests at the Indian Aviation Medicine of the IAF in Bengaluru and in Russia at the space agency which will train them in all aspects of a manned mission in outer space,” said Sivan.

Although Prime Minister Narendra Modi had hinted in his Independence address on August 15, 2018, that three Indians, including a woman, would be sent into space, Sivan said that the crew would be all men as all the four selected are males.

Last year, the ISRO had hinted that the astronauts on the human space mission ‘Gaganyaan’ will mostly be pilots.

The Indian Air Force had shortlisted 12 potential astronauts for the Gaganyaan project, out of which, seven pilots were sent to Russia for training.

‘Gaganyaan’ is India’s manned space mission which the ISRO aims to launch by December 2021. The project aims at sending the astronauts to a lower orbit of the earth and the spacecraft will have a capsule with adequate supply of oxygen and other essential material and facilities for the ‘Gagan Yatris’.

In the run-up to the ambitious manned mission, the space agency will launch 2-3 unmanned missions in 2020 and 2021 with humanoids to test the human rating of the propulsion modules, including the crew module and the escape system in the event of any emergency in the spacecraft.

Rakesh Sharma, a former IAF pilot, was the first Indian to travel to space. Sharma was a part of the Soviet Union’s Soyuz T-11 expedition, launched on April 2, 1984, as part of the Intercosmos programme.

Indian-born Kalpana Chawla and Indian-origin Sunita Williams are among the known names to have gone to space. Chawla was one of the seven crew members who perished in the space shuttle Columbia disaster during re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere in 2003.

K Radhakrishnan, former ISRO chairman under whose leadership the Mangalyaan mission was launched in 2013, had termed the announcement of Gaganyaan mission a “turning point” for the ISRO.