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Sep 09, 2012 at 09:27am IST

ISRO, born in a cow shed, launches its 100th space mission today

New Delhi: A fisherman's village in Thumba near Thiruvanathapuram, Kerala, birthed India's five decade long romance with space. Our scientists set up their first labs at the local St Mary Magdalene church there.

Dr Vasant Gowarikar, Ex-Director, Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre, says that there were hardly any facilities for them. "My office was in the church building. And I was given a cow shed and a cattle feed store to furnish my lab," he says.

On November 21, 1963, a tiny US-made rocket first soared into the skies over Thumba. Watching it was Dr Vikram Sarabhai, father of India's space programme. He dreamt up almost all of ISRO's missions, inspired talented scientists to pull them off and convinced rivals America, Russia and France to help us.

"In my opinion, the aspect of space research which I would like to stress on the most is in relation to the national capability and confidence that this will generate. And if I were to give my own evaluation of this, I think the benefit of this will far outweigh all the rest that we have been talking about," Dr Vikram Sarabhai had once said.

In 1975, twelve years after firing a borrowed baby rocket, India made its first satellite, Aryabhatta and launched it with Russian help.

Prof Satish Dhawan, Chairman ISRO, 1972-1984, said, "The Soviet Union sent up every year, nearly one hundred satellites. When their offer of help came, it was the offer of a veteran to a beginner. For that, we are very grateful."

"The main purpose of building the satellite is to learn satellite technology. We have the ability to build, design, fabricate and launch an object into space," said Professor UR Rao, Chairman, ISRO, 1984-1994.

From 1975 to 1976, ISRO borrowed an American satellite, to make television broadcasts. It was the world's first such experiment on a large scale. Two thousand five hundred villages saw programmes on education, agriculture, family planning and women's welfare.

Dr Sarabhai had said, "In a country like India, with a large mass of illiterate people who have to be motivated, it's very important to have information input as an integral part of the developmental process."

Today, India owns the largest fleet of remote sensing satellites in the world, detecting everything from crop yield to precious minerals.

Dr K Kasturirangan, Chairman, ISRO 1994-2003, says, "Satellite data is received in Oklahoma, Germany, Thailand, Japan, Korea, Dubai, Saudi Arabia. That's the extent of the IRS outreach in terms of ability to give data to users. We generate almost 10 per cent of the world's remote sensing data."

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