Siachen is the world’s highest and coldest war zone where our brave soldiers stand guard in extreme weather conditions. It is not unusual for temperature there to dip below -50 degree Celsius, something we cannot even imagine .It is so cold that even touching any metal object with bare hands can cause deadly frost bites. More soldiers have lost their lives to climatic conditions than to bullets. Since 1984, around 1000
Army personnel have lost their lives on the Siachen glacier and around 869 have been due to climatic conditions. Now, ISRO has developed the world’s lightest material called silica aerogel or blue air, an excellent insulator which can be used as a filler in soldier’s uniform to keep them warm. This material has excellent thermal resistance and can possibly help save many lives at the Siachen glacier. This aerogel is actually a solid but within its complex matrix it encapsulates 99 per cent air. This gives it several unique properties– it is incredibly light, it is a great thermal insulator. It is used for insulating the rocket’s surface.
Sometimes also called ‘frozen smoke’, it is so light weight that it can be delicately placed on a flower head and that will be useful for our soldiers who already wear very heavy clothes for protection from the chilling weather. Naga Priya, scientist in Advanced Materials & Ceramics Division at VSSC explains her lab is already in discussion with the Indian Ordnance Factory that manufactures clothes for the soldiers to see how this new material can be sandwiched between layers of cloth for making light weight parkas, socks and gloves for the soldiers who are posted at Siachen. The Indian space scientists have already made small pieces of the silica aerogel that resemble a fabric but still it is very fragile and suitable fabric has to be developed that can effectively sandwich this great insulator Turned into fabric, this aerogel could have possibly saved the valiant Lance Naik Hanamanthappa Koppad and his fellow soldiers’ lives when they were buried under an ice wall at the Siachen Glacier in February.
Frozen smoke can be used to make light weight clothing, if painted on windows, it can keep buildings cool or warm. The material is likely to be used on India’s moon rover in Chandryaan-2 mission.
ISRO has also developed small portable devices that can help in search and rescue. There are handheld devices that can be carried by trekkers and soldiers when they traverse the desolate regions. These smart devices can be activated using a button and once initiated it emits a radio beacon that can be detected by satellites. Using the Global Positioning System (GPS) the exact location of the person who is in distress can be automatically pin pointed. It can help greatly in rescue operations.
These innovations might help lower down the number of soldiers who lose their lives to the conditions at Siachen.
– Sumedha Mahajan