Under the founding father of India's space program, the visionary Dr Vikram Sarabhai, The Indian National Committee for Space research was set up in 1962

From an office at a church to realizing the GSLV dream ISROs journey in images
Features ISRO Thursday, September 08, 2016 - 18:53

India’s first operational GSLV flight using an indigenous cryogenic engine took off from the second launch pad at India’s rocket port at Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh on Thursday. The rocket on which India was heavily pinning its hopes on, successfully placed the weather satellite INSAT-3DR weighing 2,211 kg in orbit.

This feat also adds another feather to the Indian Space Research Organisation or ISRO's cap. 

However, delving into ISRO's history, India’s primary space agency  had a very humble beginning.

Under the founding father of India's space program, the visionary Dr Vikram Sarabhai, the Indian National Committee for Space research was set up in 1962. The Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC) also had a small beginning at Thumba, a coastal village at Thiruvananthapuram in 1962.

(A picture from Thumba, source VSSC)

Encouraged by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru- an initial team of rocket engineers went to America for 6 months training. In the team, was the young and ambitious scientist- former president APJ Abdul Kalam. 

Dr Kalam and Dr Aravamudan work in Thumba in 1964.

On November 21, 1963, the Indian National Committee for Space Research or INCOSPAR launched India's first sounding rocket from the southern tip of the nation, Thumba. On that day, Vikram Sarabhai, shared with his colleagues, the dream of an Indian satellite launch vehicle. Since then, there's been no looking back.

(The Magdelene church in Thumba where the first Indian rocket was assembled and integrated in 1962; Image Source: VSSC)

(Dr. Vikram Sarabhai and Dr. Paine, NASA Administrator,  sign a Satellite Agreement in 1964; Image Source: GRIN )

Indira Gandhi, then Indian Prime Minister, dedicated Thumba Equatorial Rocket Launch Station (TERLS)  to the United Nations on February 02, 1968. 

On August 15, 1969, the Indian Space Research Organisation, or the ISRO, was created; Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh was chosen as the rocket launch station. The space program working on a shoe string budget soon launched India's first indigenous satellite.

On April 19, 1975, Russia's SL-8 put into orbit the Aryabhatta.

Aryabhata, India’s first satellite.

Five years later in 1980 India made its first successful indigenous satellite launch- the Rohini 1B was launched on July 18, 1980, from Sriharikota. While the space program was making rapid strides, in 19884, a 35-year-old Indian Air Force pilot, Squadron Leader Rakesh Sharma became the first Indian to go in space.

(Rohini Satellite (RS-1) launched by Indian launch vehicle SLV-3 on July 18, 1980; Image Source)

Apple satellite being transported in a bullock cart in 1981

At this time, the ISRO was constructing a satellite launch vehicle that would be able to put useful satellites into polar orbits. The Polar Satellite Launch vehicle or the PSLV made its first successful launch in 1994 and since then the PSLV has become India's workhorse launch vehicle.

PSLV-C26/IRNSS-IC launch in October 1994.

In 2001, India launched the still larger GSLV- Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle- that could put into orbit satellites weighing up to 2.5 tonnes. 

GSLV-D1 (launched on April 18, 2001)

Chandrayaan-1, India's first mission to Moon, was launched successfully on October 22, 2008. The satellite made more than 3400 orbits around the moon and the mission was concluded when the communication with the spacecraft was lost on August 29, 2009. 

PSLV - C11 that put Chandrayaan into orbit

Marking India's first venture into the interplanetary space,the Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM), also called Mangalyaan was launched on 5 November 2013.  It is a space probe orbiting Mars since 24 September 2014.

First image of Mars taken by MOM 

Today, the Indian space program has come a long way from the modest sounding rockets. We are a member of the elite club that even does commercial satellite launches, a business worth billions of dollars. 

As Prime Minister Narendra Modi aptly put in his speech at the ISRO after a successful Mangalyaan launch, India has made history today. And we all are grateful to our scientists. 

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