You know, I know, we all know… That what we know is NO rocket science 😛
I don’t know about the millennials.. But as a 90’s kid, I sure know how everyone who grew up in the Doordarshan era have lived through the excitement of watching a rocket launch on TV. It would be far from anything but a dream come true to watch one in real! That’s why I decided to explore the journey of the evolution of rocket science in India… and thus score off one item on my bucket list- to witness a rocket launch! (Click here to see my wish list)
India’s space history had a humble beginning in a coastal village called Thumba in the 1960s. India’s first rocket, the Nike Apache was assembled exactly where once stood an active church of Lady Magdalene. Thumba Equatorial Rocket Launching Station (TERLS) is now called as the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC) where a sounding rocket is launched on the third Wednesday of every month to date. As India’s space research requirements expanded, the need for a larger area laid foundation to the present day Satish Dhawan Space Centre, SHAR at Sriharikota. This is where the present day larger SLVs are launched.
This year 2019 is particularly of my interest for 2 reasons. One- we commemorate the Golden jubilee year of the formation of ISRO; Two- It’s the centenary year of the father of Indian space science, Dr.Vikram Sarabhai. (Click here to read the complete story). How does the country celebrate it? By launching a rocket… India’s largest rocket, taking the payload to the moon!
On a random thought, I was reminded of someone distantly telling me about visitors being allowed to watch rocket launches at VSSC. I browsed through their website and immediately registered myself to witness the next launch.17-Apr-19 it was. My visit was confirmed by an e-mail on the following day. I was as excited as an electron. The next task was reaching there. Trivandrum seemed to be quite far as per google maps. It required a minimum of 4days for a return trip and working out any mode of transport to reach there was both expensive and time consuming. Trains tickets were sold out and flight charges were already sky high. I decided to wait for a tatkal train ticket or book a last minute ticket to travel by bus. I had planned to fall sick to office.
After many failed attempts at registering themselves for watching the rocket launch along with me, my friends got a rejection mail. Reason: ‘17-Apr-19 was a government holiday, VSSC will remain closed’, I was informed of what the mail read. Now, we were all in a fix. I had an acceptance and they were rejected with a reason. I called up the VSSC office immediately to get a clarification. I was told that the festival date was frozen after my registration and hence the April’s launch would be re-scheduled to a later date. So now, considering that 15-May-19 was the 3rd wednesday of the next month, the officer talking on the other end of the phone obliged to reschedule my visit to that day. My mother, brother and friends decided to join me on that day by registering themselves separately. All registrations were accepted and we were sorted. The next step was getting approval for my week long’s absence from office. It was fairly easy since it was still a month away and I wasn’t throwing a sudden surprise to my boss. Train tickets were available in abundance and we were all happy with confirmed AC berths for a return trip.
My cellphone had been blinking after an SMS was received. I reached out to read it, a SMS from VSSC it was. “The rocket launch scheduled on 15-May-19 has been cancelled due to technical reasons”, it read. We were supposed to travel to Thumba the next day. All our hearts sunk in for a bit. But then, yeah.. We were quick to accept the fact that “Launching a real rocket isn’t something like burning Diwali fireworks. There are a lot of scientific calculations that goes into it based on the fitness of the machine itself and geo-spatial positioning. These launches are scheduled monthly events and we can definitely plan to make it some other time. I’d rather surprise my boss by turning up for work even on a planned holiday”, I thought.
It was the day when I was supposed to be witnessing a rocket launch, in real. This day, I was pleasantly informed by a friend that ISRO had opened its gates for public viewing of satellite launches at Sriharikota. “Oh WOW!” was my first exclamation. As the World celebrates 50 years of man’s first steps on the moon this year, India was gearing up for one of its ambitious mission to the moon. The Chandrayaan2 was scheduled for a 2019 launch. “I shall wait for this one!” I had decided. I kept close watch on the launch date. As days passed by, the launch was declared to be on 15-July-19. The next task was to keep close watch on the registration link on the ISRO website. Eventually, newspaper headlines read that the registration lines for would go live on 04-July-19. Only 5000 people were going to be let in, on a first-come-first-serve basis. It being a milestone project, we had to be real quick to apply and lucky to get the entry passes.
I was up and waiting for the stroke of the clock at 12.00.a.m. But for my disappointment, the website had hung. Waiting until the server got better didn’t seem to be a good idea but I had my apprehensions about losing a chance. But the sleep gods had started to take over me. I set the alarm at 05.00.a.m. hoping to try my luck anyway. Surprisingly, when I woke up at 5.00.a.m., the website still gave the same regret message. I decided to try again after reaching my workplace. It was around 09.30.a.m. when the lines got better and I had navigated into the 2nd page of registration. With a surprisingly slow server of the ISRO, it was 10.00.a.m. by the time I had a confirmed entry pass for 3 people including my mother, brother and myself. My friends on the other end had failed to get the passes. As expected, the tickets were SOLD OUT in less than half an hour of opening the registration lines. I was LUCKY!
The trio comprising mom, bro and myself set out on this epic road-trip to see our wish come true.. We were driving to Sriharikota, to witness the launch of India’s largest rocket till date- GSLV MkIII, carrying onboard, the Chandrayaan2. The satellite was scheduled to launch at 2.51.a.m. that midnight / early morning of the following day. The last town before Sriharikota was Sullurpeta, 25kms away. All hotel rooms were sold out and we had decided to stay inside our car and make do with the available fuel station or restaurants when we had to answer a nature’s call. Although the entry to the launch view gallery was scheduled to be open at 10.00.p.m., we ensured that we reached there by 08.00.p.m. to avoid the traffic and the rush. When we reached there, the rocket garden at the entrance already seemed to be flooded with media-persons and the visitors alike. When this Bahubali rocket blasts off, the entire island lights up like day, the window glasses rattle in Sullurpeta, a visitor told us adding to our excitement. When the gates opened, we were among the earliest visitors who occupied the seats of our choice. We watched the crowd slowly pour in to the gallery and the excitement was only getting higher with passing time. We were still over 4 hours away from having our wish come true.
While the entire country was glued to their TV screens to watch a nail biting finale of cricket world cup in which India was out of the tournament long ago, I was part of a relatively smaller crowd that had gathered to cheer for India on one of its greatest mission to date.
At a distant sight of view, the red lights were blinking on the cranes and the umbilical tower at the launch pad. The emcee was building up the momentum for the final showdown. The cheer for India and ISRO reverberated in the gallery as the countdown and live videos of the satellite were displayed on the large LED screens.
At around 57 minutes ahead of the launch, the emcee’s voice dropped. With a pause she said, “The launch has been temporarily withheld due to some reasons. Anyway, we shall continue to do whatever we are doing right now, to cheer for this project.” Even before she could complete, another voice echoed in at the 56th minute. “This is the director talking from the control room. Due to a technical snag identified, this project remains called off for today”, he said. There was a sudden silence as the crowd sat in disbelief. The emcee too hadn’t seen that announcement coming and wasn’t really prepared to take that. She repeated the exact words of the director to the crowd. The audience continued to sit in silence. Clearly, disbelief loomed large. Every soul in the gallery hoped that it was a prank and Chandrayaan 2.0 was still going to take off in a few minutes. The emcee told them to disperse.I felt like my head was going blank and it felt like the emcee’s voice was fading out. I waited for the launch hoping it would take off after the crowd cleared out. “This project remains called off for TODAY”, I tried to understand what had just been said. “The mission was not CANCELLED, it was only POSTPONED to a later day..” I reassured myself. “I shall be back… to cheer for my country’s greatest scientists.. for propelling India’s ambitious mission..” I decided.
Amidst lot of speculations, the new launch date was set to be 22-July-19. ‘You can reconfirm your visit to the launch view gallery by clicking on the link provided.’ an email from ISRO read. I wasted no time in updating my entry pass as a constant smile of re-assurance prevailed over my face on getting to go again. Unlike my previous visit to Sriharikota, I decided to contain my enthusiasm this time. I didn’t care the delay, all I wanted was a successful mission.
Today, we are here at the gallery already at 10.00.a.m., we are the early birds who have come here to occupy the prime view seats, the drizzle of rain since morning hasn’t dampened our spirits. People are slowly trickling in, but they all seem to keep it a low key affair this time. The momentum was given a boost by Mr.K.Sivan, the Chairman, ISRO by coming down to the launch view gallery to meet and greet the enthusiastic crowd. We were all briefed about the unknown facts about #chandrayaan2 by Mr.Ranganathan, the project director for the stage 1 of GSLV mk III.
The first visuals of the Bahubali rocket all set for its trip to the moon from the launch pad finally appeared on the LED screens and crowd had started to get eclectic as the countdown started. And well, Finally the emphatic countdown has begun and we see everyone more confident than ever… 10..9..8..7..6..5..4..3..2..1……
It was SHEER sight of a lifetime… an impendingly roaring bright yellow mass of flame blasted off from amid the forest cover, separating itself from the umbilical tower.. A sonic boom travelled afar and within a few seconds, it disappeared into thick clouds. Although the launch vehicle lifted off at 2.43.p.m., the cheers from the control room came in 16 minutes later when the 3,850-kg spacecraft was successfully placed into the earth’s orbit and the first signal of separation was received from the satellite. CHANDRAYAAN2 on its trip to the moon, with a successful launch!
I’ve got Goosebumps all over me!
Happy Chandrayaan to ya’ll!
Here’s a quick summary of India’s mission of landing on other celestial bodies outside earth:
- Circa 2008: Chandrayaan1, India’s first ever mission to the moon, put India on the world map for being the 4th country to land on the moon. Although it was functional for 312 days against the intended life of 2yrs, it was still able to achieve 95% of its expected tasks. That was HUGE for a first Indian- home made launch vehicle.
- Circa 2013: Mangalyaan1 was a first for any country to have a successful landing on the Mars on a maiden attempt. What’s bonus? The orbitor that was designed with an intended life of 6 months is still orbiting around the Mars, well into its 5th year as on date.
- Circa 2019: Chandrayaan2, India’s 2nd mission to the moon made it the first country to land on the southern pole of the moon. Why is this mission so important? This satellite will be launched in a GSLV MkIII, the largest launch vehicle ever built by India. The success of this mission will pave way with more thrust to India’s first manned mission to space- The Gaganyaan, which will also happen with the same launch vehicle.
Through these successful launches, India has created a niche for itself for producing successful space projects at lowest prices. These entirely indigenous projects which cost way lesser than several hollywood movies speak volumes of the capabilities of the scientists of my country.
As someone rightly said, so many countries have the moon on their flags, India is one of the only 4 countries to have their flag on the moon. There can’t be more reasons to applaud ISRO and be proud of India, my INCREDIBLE country!