To Infinity And Beyond

Long heralded as the domain of West, India has joined the clique firmly establishing itself amongst the pantheon of spacefaring nations

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By Muhammad Ali Bandial

Published: Mon 15 Aug 2022, 12:00 AM

You know a concept has trickled into mainstream consciousness when you see it being depicted on the big screen. With the recent proliferation of movies and series depicting Indian-origin characters making space journeys, it is fair to say that we are witnessing a new era, one in which putting an Indian on the moon or other planetary bodies for that matter, is no longer be considered science fiction or magical realism.

When Jitendra Singh, the Union Minister of State for the Ministry of Science and Technology, announced recently that preparations for ‘Gaganyaan’, India’s maiden human space mission, were complete, his statement perfectly encapsulated the nation’s more than four decades journey, which started with operating a control room inside a church and ferrying rocket on the back of a bicycle.

Infact, there was a time, when due to an absence of basic infrastructure during the initial days of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), even a toilet had to be converted into a data receiving centre for ‘Aryabhata’, the first Indian developed spacecraft, which was launched using a Soviet Launcher. These incidents, while appearing anecdotal and scarcely believable, belie the strength of conviction and determination that became the backbone, leading to India’s ascendance into outer space.


India’s journey into space literally began in a place of belief. When the government set up the Indian National Committee for Space Research (INCOSPAR) in 1962, Dr. Vikram Sarabhai launched the Thumba Equatorial Rocket Launching Station (TERLS) in Thiruvananthapuram for upper atmospheric research with the main office situated in the St. Mary Magdelene Church in the sleepy fishing village of Thumba in Thiruvananthapuram in Kerala. In 1967, the first ‘Experimental Satellite Communication Earth Station (ESCES)’ located in Ahmedabad was operationalised, which also doubled as a training centre for the Indian as well as international scientists and engineers. Building on the headway made with INCOSPAR, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) was established in August 1969, replacing the former entity and being brought under the ambit of the newly created Department of Space (DOS) in June 1972. The unifying theme throughout the years has been a vision to bring space to the service of the common man. In the process, the space programme has made the nation proud by becoming one of the six largest space agencies in the world, maintaining one of the largest fleet of communication satellites (INSAT) and remote sensing (IRS) satellites and providing fast and reliable communication and earth observation respectively.


Some of the services provided by ISRO include developing and delivering application specific satellite products and tools such as broadcasts, communications, weather forecasts, disaster management tools, Geographic Information Systems, cartography, navigation, telemedicine, dedicated distance education satellites being some of them. In the pursuit of excellence and self-dependence, the need to develop cost efficient and reliable launch systems was acutely felt. To fulfill this need, the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) was established, which went on to become a favoured carrier for satellites of various countries due to its reliability and cost efficiency, promoting unprecedented international collaboration. Beyond technological capability, ISRO has also contributed to science and science education in the country through its various dedicated research centres and autonomous institutions for remote sensing, astronomy and astrophysics, atmospheric sciences and space sciences. To date, ISRO has carried out 114 spacecraft missions, 83 launch missions and planned several missions including the Aditya, Gaganyaan and MOM 2.


Much of the credit goes to the present government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Since assuming office in 2014, the government has increased the budget to Rs 6,000 crores, which is 50 per cent more than the 2013-14 budget. With each passing year the budget is being increased, taking the current budget to almost Rs 14,000 crore.


In announcing that the trial of the mission scheduled to take place in 2023 would be conducted by the end of the year, Singh, said: Next year, one or two human beings of Indian origin will go to space. The preparations for our Gaganyaan have been done. Before that, two trials will be conducted by the end of this year. The first trial will be empty and in the seconf, a female robot (astronaut) will be sent whose name is Vyommitra.” The Minister added that on the basis of those missions, an Indian astronaut would go in the third mission

If successful, the launch would make India the fourth nation in the world to launch a human spaceflight mission after the US, Russia and China.


Building on the momentum, ISRO shows no signs of slowing down and aims to conduct 50 launches by 2024. In conclusion, journeys are never linear, those based on belief and faith alone, even lesser. It is common for momentary highs to be followed by disappointments and failures that start out with days that lead to months and even years. ISRO's programmes have played a significant role in the socio-economic development of India, supporting both civilian and military domains in various aspects including disaster management, telemedicine and navigation and reconnaissance missions. Furthermore, as a result of its success, ISRO has given rise to spinoff technologies that have also found many crucial innovations for India's engineering and medical industries. Thus, India has made the nation proud by making the world remove its screening of incredulity and see what it had envisioned more than four decades ago when it started its incredible journey.


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