ISRO, Indian Space Research Organization, is India’s premier space research and exploration agency, headquartered in the city of Bengaluru established in 1969. The modern space program received an impetus with the the leadership of Dr. Vikram Ambalal Sarabhai, also known as ‘Father of Indian Space Programme’. His vision was supported by the collective efforts of Prof. Satish Dhawan, Dr. Brahm Prakash and Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam.
Now, let us talk about India’s first rocket launch.
The history of Indian Space Programme crossed its first milestone in 1962, when Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Prime Minister of India at that specific period, along with Dr. Vikram Sarabhai established Indian National Committee for Space Research (INCOSPAR).
In 1963, the mission for rocket launch was set on wheels. It commenced from a small village, Thumba near Trivandrum in Kerala. Now, in Thumba, there was something very interesting which caught the eyes of Dr. Sarabhai.
It was a church which was located on earth’s magnetic equator. Now, what is a magnetic equator?
Magnetic equator is an imaginary line around the planet that connects all the points where a magnetic needle when freely suspended is horizontal. This is an area of great scientific importance because this is the location where equatorial electrojet exists. Equatorial electrojet is the place where a stream of electrons will travel a distance of about 110-120 km above in space which is a favourable condition for rocket launch.
One day, Dr. Sarabhai accompanied with his fellow scientists, went to see the Bishop of Trivandrum, Rev. Dr. Pereira regarding the acquisition of church and nearby land in Thumba for the purpose of rocket launch. The bishop didn’t give a confirmative answer on that day. He asked Dr. Vikram Sarabhai to attend that week’s sunday prayer. After discussions with the other prominent members, the church was handed over to him.
Thus, St. Mary Magdalene church became the first office of Indian Space Programme. The Bishop had only one humble request that the althar should be preserved whatsoever happens. To this day, the althar and the church, both are maintained with all its glory and at present, houses the Indian Space Museum.
After this, Dr. Sarabhai selected some talented and enthusiastic scientists for a six-month training programme on sounding rocket launching techniques at Wallops Flight Facility at Wallops Island in East Coast, Virginia. This was the base for NASA’s sounding rocket programme. The scientists returned back after completing their training.
In earlier days, there were no means of highly sophisticated transportation in Thumba. The young scientists and engineers preferred either walking or riding a bicycle. Back then, the rocket parts and payloads were transported to church building by means of cycle and bullock cart for assembling.
After few months of hardwork, the young scientist crew of India was ready for their first rocket launch – Nike-Apache made at NASA, on 21 November 1963. The assembled rocket was transported to the launch pad using a truck and manually operated hydraulic crane. During the process of lifting the rocket by crane and when it was about to be placed on the launcher, tilting occured as a result of a leak in the hydraulic system of crane. Since the leak was not large enough, the rocket was able to be lifted manually and was finally placed on the launcher. Finally, things seemed to be in order. At 6.25 pm, India had successfully put its first signature on space. The rocket launching site later became Thumba Equatorial Rocket Launch Station (TERLS).
The real journey of Indian Space Programme started later after four years. On 20 November 1967, India launched Rohini-75 (RH-75), first indigenous sounding rocket. It had a diameter of 75 mm and hence named the same. Weighing 32 kg and a height of about 1.5 m, it was a onestage rocket which was used to probe the upper atmospheric regions and for space research.
Truly, the launch of RH-75 was a remarkable feat for India. It proved the capabilities of Indian space scientists and researchers, which ignited a fire in the eyes of those who always have dreamt of space and its unexplored dimensions. India owe a lot of gratitude towards the thousands of scientists and technicians of ISRO for their undoubted dedication and hardwork that took our country’s pride to Moon, Mars and beyond. Thankyou ISRO!!!