The story about India’s first rocket launch will amaze you. The first Indian rocket was transported on a bicycle. A bullock-cart carried the rocket parts. Moreover, a village church was also the space centre for the rocket launch. Now, you must be curious to know about the fascinating stories of the country’s first rocket launch.
As that time, Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) was not in existence. To formulate the space programme, the government had set up the Indian National Committee for Space Research (INCOSPAR) in 1962.
This committee was a part of the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research. Later on, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) superseded this committee in 1969.
Dr Vikram Sarabhai was the chairman of INCOSPAR. Dr Homi Bhabha (father of Indian nuclear programme) was one of the core members of the committee. In 1960, Vikram Sarabhai found that a small fishing village namely Thumba in Trivandrum (Kerala) was the ideal place for a rocket launching station.
Efforts for getting rocket launching station
A church in the village was located on the earth’s magnetic equator and could be the launch site for the rocket. It was St Mary Magdalene Church. This created interest in Dr Sarabhai and he thought of acquiring the land.
So, one day, Vikram Sarabhai and his colleagues went to Thumba. The young scientist Dr A P J Abdul Kalam was one of the members of this team. They met the bishop of the Church Rev Peter Bernard Pereira and talked about the matter.
However, the bishop did not give a definite answer. He asked them to attend the Sunday mass where he would put the question before the church members.
Dr Kalam beautifully described this incident in his famous book Ignited Minds: Unleashing the Power Within India. He wrote about what the bishop said in the mass:
“My children, I have a famous scientist with me who wants our church and the place I live for the work of space science and research. Science seeks the truth that enriches human life. The higher level of religion is spirituality. The spiritual preachers seek the help of the Almighty to bring peace to human minds.
In short, what Vikram is doing and what I am doing are the same – both science and spirituality seek the Almighty’s blessings for human prosperity in mind and body. Children, can we give them God’s abode for a scientific mission?”
The church became rocket launching station
The congregation said a hearty Amen and the bishop granted the permission for the acquisition of the village. After due paperwork, the residents shifted to the nearby village with a new church. Now, St Mary Magdalene Church became Thumba Equatorial Rocket Launching Station (TERLS).
In this way, the bishop’s home became the office for the scientists. The church was now workshop and cattle sheds served as laboratories. The Indian scientists assembled in their mission despite having little funding and few facilities.
On those days, Thumba village had no canteen facilities. The scientists would have to ride on bicycle to Trivandrum station for their breakfast and dinner. In addition to this, they used the same communication to move within the workplace. They would be very busy on weekdays. While on holidays, they spent on the Kovalam beach or watched movies in the nearby theatre.
Transported on bicycle and bullock-cart
India had limited resources only after independence. This is the reason that rocket parts were carried by bullock-carts. A bicycle was used to bring the rocket to the launch pad. This was a Nike-Apache rocket that NASA had built.
The hard work of scientists came into reality when India was ready to launch the first rocket. It was on 21 November 1963. However, Nature was also ready to make their task difficult. When they were hoisting the rocket into the launcher, a leak appeared in the hydraulic crane.
When the team of scientists corrected it, the remote system of the launcher got out of order. But our scientists were so much enthusiastic. And finally, they fixed all the shortcomings.
The alarm sounded for the green signal. In no time, the rocket entered into the unlimited sky. India successfully launched its first rocket.
After the demise of Dr Vikram Sarabhai in 1980, TERLS was renamed as Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC) in his honour.
In the premises of the centre, there is a space museum. This museum contains an array of rockets, satellites, and other astronomical things.
Achievements of VSSC
VSSC is now a major space research centre of ISRO and focuses on rocket and space vehicles for India’s satellite programme. Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre has given India satellite launch vehicles, sounding rockets and Air Breathing Propulsion.
VSSC launched the first Indian made rocket RH-75 in 1967. Till now, it has launched nearly 2200 sounding rockets. VSSC is also working on disaster management, telemedicine, DTH television service and tele-education.
The centre also made a significant contribution to Chandryan-1 which was launched from Satish Dhawan Space Centre, Sriharikota. We hope that VSSC will establish several new records in the field of space research for India.
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