India aims to send astronauts, including women, to space by December 2021. K Sivan, Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) chief, said on Friday that the space agency is gearing up for the ambitious Gaganyaan mission for which initial training will be done in India.

“The initial training for Gaganyaan will be done in India and advanced training maybe in Russia. Women astronauts will be there on the team. That’s our aim,” Sivan said in a press briefing.

He added that the human programme is “a major turning point” in ISRO’s history and will happen before the 15 August 2022 goal set by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

“Gaganyaan has the highest priority for 2019,” he said, adding that all crew members will be Indians.

Unnikrishnan Nair has been named the director of a new centre dedicated to the programme. The astronauts will be called ‘Vyomnauts’ since “Vyom” in Sanskrit means space.

“We will set up six incubation and research centres across the country. We will bring the Indian students to ISRO. Why do the Indian students need to go to NASA?” the ISRO chief said underlining the expansive plans the organisation has for the promotion of space programmes among the youth of the country.

The ISRO chief also said that two unmanned missions to space are planned for December 2020 and July 2021.

India has inked agreements with Russia and France for assistance in Gaganyaan, which is a Rs 10,000-crore mission.

The ISRO chief also said that the total number of missions planned for next year is 32 of which 14 are launch vehicle mission. India’s second moon mission, Chandrayaan-2, is planned for this year.

“Right now, Chandrayaan is scheduled from March 25 to April end. Most probably, the normal targeted date is April middle,” Sivan told reporters.

The Gaganyaan Programme was approved by the union cabinet, chaired by PM Modi, on 28 December 2018.

India is planning to send a three-member crew to space for seven days. The ISRO might use its biggest rocket, the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle Mark III (GSLV Mk III), to send the astronauts into space.

According to reports, ISRO has also mastered the art of making a spacesuit which will be used by Indian astronauts.