The Indian Space Research Organisation on Thursday tested a crew escape module that is critical in ensuring the safety of astronauts in case a rocket explodes on the launch pad. This was the first in a series of tests of a crew escape system, which is crucial for conducting human space flight.

“The Crew Escape System is an emergency escape measure designed to quickly pull the crew module along with the astronauts to a safe distance from the launch vehicle in the event of a launch abort,” ISRO said in a statement. “The first test [Pad Abort Test] demonstrated the safe recovery of the crew module in case of any exigency at the launch pad.”

The space agency said the emergency system, along with the simulated crew module, lifted off from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Andhra Pradesh’s Sriharikota at 7 am. “The test was over in 259 seconds, during which the crew escape system along with crew module soared skyward, then arced out over the Bay of Bengal and floated back to Earth under its parachutes about 2.9 km from Sriharikota,” the statement said.

Around 300 sensors recorded various mission performance parameters during the test flight.

ISRO Chairman K Sivan told The Times of India that the next test will focus on aborting the capsule at flight mode. “Like today’s test, many components needed for the country’s first manned mission will be tested in near future,” he said.

The government has not yet approved the human space flight programme, which the ISRO estimates will cost $2.5 billion (Rs 1,723 crore) or more, and take seven to 10 years to set up, NDTV reported.