On Wednesday, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) created history by successfully launching 104 satellites on one rocket, beating the Russian Space Agency’s record of 37 satellites in 2014 by a huge margin.
While we celebrate this marvellous achievement, let us also take a look at the decades of struggle and hard work that went into making ISRO one of the most successful space agencies in the world.
On November 21, 1963, the world was taken by surprise as a remote village at the southern tip of India successfully launched the subcontinent’s first sounding rocket. The launch location was Thumba, a small fishing village in Kerala, where a rocket launch-pad was made in a field of coconut groves. A local Catholic church, the St. Mary Magadelene’s Church, served as the main office for the scientists, while the bishop’s house and cattle shed became the workshop and laboratory respectively. Rocket parts and payloads were carried by the scientists on bicycles from one place to another.
Such humble were the beginnings of ISRO, or the erstwhile Indian National Committee for Space Research (INCOSPAR). Set up in 1962 by Jawaharlal Nehru and led by Dr. Vikram Sarabhai, INCOSPAR was India’s first attempt to formulate the Indian Space Programme. Dr. A. P. J. Abdul Kalam was amongst the few young scientists who set up the Thumba Equatorial Rocket Launching Station, which launched as many as 350 small rockets over the next 12 years.
On Independence Day, 1969, INCOSPAR grew into ISRO and was brought under the Department of Space, Govt. of India. 1975 marked a major milestone for ISRO as it built the country’s first indigenous satellite, Aryabhata, which was launched by the Soviet Union.
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In 1979, the major launching site of ISRO was shifted to Sriharikota, and shortly, in 1980, RS-1 became the first satellite to be put into orbit by an Indian launch vehicle, SLV-3. Although such feats were achieved by several other countries before this, it was a significant progress for India’s young space programme.
“A small vehicle, no doubt, but a giant leap for the nation,” said Dr. Kalam.
ISRO designed India’s first communication satellite, APPLE, in 1981. The iconic photograph of APPLE being transported in a bullock cart is seen to make rounds on social media. (The reason for using wooden bullock carts was elegant and yet simple – to avoid interference of magnet-sensitive instruments with metal trucks!) APPLE was subsequently used in several communication experiments including relay of TV programmes and radio networking. After this, the INSAT series of satellites developed by ISRO in the 80s and 90s went on to become the largest domestic communication system in the Asia Pacific Region.
Between 1979 and 1994, ISRO had experienced a number of failures in developing launch vehicles. However, the next series of launch vehicles, Polar Satellite Launch Vehicles (PSLVs), achieved unprecedented success with 38 successful launches and only 1 failure in the last 24 years. It created a record in 2008 by launching 10 satellites in one launch, and again on 15th February, 2017 by launching 104 satellites in one go. ISRO’s PSLV remains a favourite among various organisations from 19 countries who use it as a launch service provider. ISRO also successfully tested India’s first reusable launch vehicle in May, 2016, that could potentially cut down launch costs by 10 times.
ISRO has had other ambitious projects beyond the earth as well. In 2008-09, ISRO successfully crash-landed Chandrayaan-1 on the surface of the moon using an indigenous PSLV. The mission confirmed presence of water on the moon among its other achievements. In 2014, India became the first country to place an orbiter in Mars’ orbit in the first attempt through ISRO’s Mangalyaan Mission. Besides being the least expensive Mars mission ever, this achievement earned India the 2015 Space Pioneer Award.
With all the achievements to its name till date, ISRO was already a major player in international space exploration, even when compared with developed nations. With the latest achievement of scoring 104 satellites in one launch, ISRO has surpassed all expectations and has brought immense pride to Indians.
The Logical Indian community humbly congratulates the scientists, engineers, staff and everyone associated with ISRO for their outstanding success streak and wishes them the best for their future endeavours.