|By Ramnath Shenoy, Mangalore [ Published Date: December 10, 2009 ]|
With the word "Anthariksh" comes some vibes through the body of every Indian. India has a very rich past in the field of astronomy, astrology and space-science. We have been the people who have been following the lunar calendar and our ancestors may have been among the many astronomers of the glorious past who made predictions about solar and lunar eclipses with great accuracy, precision and diligence. However, among the millions of celestial bodies present in this gigantic universe, Chandra or the moon has been most associated with us, the Homo sapiens and especially with us, the Indians.
There have been many space programs that have been undertaken by India but it is the Chandrayan-1 that has caught the imagination of the world. Perhaps the most memorable imageries of our lives have also been associated with the moon. Lines like "Oh! Look at the moon, she is shining up there…" still 'twinkle' our ears. As India settles to cherish the success of Chandrayan-1, its first mission to moon, it feels amazing to go through the pathways and milestones which have earned us a well-deserved and pivotal place among the space-power nations of the world.
No one thought it was possible, at least after seeing Russia launch Sputnik (first man-made satellite) in 1957. It was the time when India with a new constitution had just entered the international scene. And with problems of food shortage and lack of basic amenities, space research in India was only a dream for few scientists. But some people took it into their stride to convert this dream into reality. Dr. Vikram Sarabhai was one among them. If not for his long standing efforts, India couldn't have become the kind of space hotspot that it is today. His guiding and indomitable spirit led to the genesis of Indian space programme.
His aim was not to be a part of the 'Space Race' but to achieve a space programme with the advancement in technology for the welfare of the society. It was a Herculean task for a developing and just independent India but in 1962, under the leadership of this pioneer, Indian National Committee for Space Research (INCOSPAR) was established. India's first rocket launch happened in Thumba, in the year 1963 (American Nike-Apache rocket).It is indeed an irony that westerners mastered rocketry even though there have been glimpses of such rockets in the Indian history as well with Tipu Sultan and his father Hyder Ali taking on the British using rocket made of short iron tubes attached to long bamboo poles. It is believed that the British took this technology back home and mastered the art. However, significant improvement in this field was done by the Germans during the second-world war with the launch of V-1 and V-2 missiles.
There was stiff competition between the Soviet Union and the U.S to become 'space super power' but the Indians under Dr.Vikram Sarabhai maintained its stand n the peaceful use of space-technology. The irony was that most of the space scientists were absorbed by these two space-giants. Establishing rocket science calls for the development of a broad range of multidisciplinary technology. In 1967, the first indigenous rocket RE-75(Rohini sounding rocket having a diameter of 75mm) was launched from Thumba Equatorial Rocket Launching Station (TERLS).This was the first step towards a never ending journey of India into the realms of space. Fortunately we weren't too slow since this historic event happened two years before the Apollo launch and six years after Yuri Gagarin's Space Endeavour.
The complexity and the high budget requirement led to the establishment of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) in 1972.
After the launch of Aryabhatta on April 17 1975 from Russia, India's satellite technology has grown by leaps and bounds. By mastering the launch vehicle technology which started with the SLV-3(Satellite Launch Vehicle), ASLV (Augmented Satellite Launch Vehicle), PSLV (Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle), GSLV (Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle), ISRO has made India one of the leading space faring nations who launch satellites into space with accuracy and precision.
Now India has mainly two kinds of satellite-the INSAT (the Indian National Satellite System) and IRS (Indian Remote Sensing satellites).These satellites provide a host of services to the society. These satellites help in proper management of land resources, water resources, water resource location and management, disaster warning. It helps in providing medical help to remotest of the village through telemedicine. EDUSAT has been launched with the purpose of broadcasting various educational programmes so that the millions invested on Indian space programme are justified. Apart from these direct benefits, lot of other fields have also benefited indirectly.
The present day ISRO boasts of state –of-the-art facilities due to the determined efforts of technocrats and scientists. India has entered the elite club of space faring nations with the capacity to do re-entry missions with the success of Space capsule Recovery Experiment (SRE).ISRO has also invited research scholars to do research on a commercial basis. India is also into commercial launch market. Agile (Italian), LAPAN-TUBSAT (Indonesia) were launched as a co-passenger with SRE in PSLV. This has been a source of revenue for ISRO. The Indian satellites are in great demand in the world market. ISRO has been doing a commendable job even though it has been working under certain limitations of its own.
The success of Chandrayaan-I has enabled us to look optimistically at ISRO's future programmes. The mission, which for the first time gave us high-resolution pictures of the moon surface, also aims to decode the mode of its birth. India is now doing extensive research in Air Breathing Propulsion (ABP) which will ultimately help in low cost access to space. ISRO has also started providing services to countries like Russia starting with the launch of few satellites of the GLONASS satellite constellation. India has mastered the complicated technology of the indigenous cryogenic stage and has plans to fly its first flight by using this.
India has been blessed with leaders from date unknown. A few among them have lead ISRO and Indian Space programmes. With pioneers like Dr.Vikram Sarabhai, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam and Madhavan Nair, we have started our never ending journey into realms of space. From Aryabhatta to Chandrayaan, from Rakesh Sharma to the mission of seeing the first Indian on moon, we have come a long way. And as we look back, we can only conclude that ISRO has secured India a unique and coveted place in the vast realms of Astronomy and space science.
Ramnath Shenoy is a student of St.Aloysius P.U College, Mangalore. His articles are also being published in the college magazine.