The day which I clearly remember was when I was watching the most historic rocket launch by the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), carrying 104 satellites into space on Wed Feb 15, 2017. Another historic day for India and its space exploration capabilities was marked by immense efforts of the scientists and engineers behind Chandrayaan – 2. The spacecraft was launched on its mission to the Moon from the second launch pad at the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Andhra Pradesh on 22nd July 2019. If we move a few decades back, we can see how the smallest steps but the biggest of dreams can create an impact on billions of lives.
Modern space research in India can most visibly be traced back to the 1920s, when a scientist by the name S. K. Mitra conducted a series of experiments leading to the sounding of the ionosphere by application of ground based radio methods in Calcutta. Later, Indian scientists like C.V. Raman and Meghnad Saha contributed to scientific principles applicable in space sciences. However it was the period after 1945 that saw important developments being made in coordinated space research in India.
Initial experiments in space sciences included the study of cosmic radiation, high altitude and airborne testing of instruments, deep underground experimentation at the Kolar mines, one of the deepest mining sites in the world and studies of the upper atmosphere.
Studies were carried out at research laboratories, universities, and independent locations. Mr. Satish Dhawan, the pillar of ISRO, had degrees in mechanical engineering, physics and mathematics simultaneously, the 1st ever foreign student to get a full scholarship at the California Institute of Technology. His research in Fluid Mechanics and Space Technology was a push factor for the Space Research which was going to happen in India.
APJ Abdul Kalam explains that in 1979, when he was appointed as the director of the Satellite Launch Vehicle (SLV) project, the mission failed to launch the satellite into the orbit. Instead, just after a few seconds of liftoff, it crashed into the Bay of Bengal. The team under Abdul Kalam knew that there was a leakage in the fuel system, but they hoped that the leakage is negligible, and they thought there was enough fuel in the system to sustain it for longer. This miscalculation lead to a disastrous failure. Satish Dhawan being the chairman at the time, called Abdul Kalam and conveyed to the press “We failed! But I have a very sound trust in my team that next time we will succeed for sure and that’s my promise”. This surprised Dr. Kalam as the blame of the failure was taken upon by the chairman of ISRO.
The next mission was prepared and launched successfully on 1980. At this moment of success, Satish Dhawan told Dr. Kalam to attend the press meet without his presence. When the team failed, he took the blame. But when the team succeeded, he redirected the success to his team, thus portraying the picture of a true leader Dr. Satish Dhawan was. People like him will always be missed by India.
I just cannot thank enough to all those brave scientists and engineers who worked tirelessly for the country and converted this impossible dream into a reality!