India's space odyssey -
church to Chandrayaan
Oct 20 (IANS) A church as control room, the bishop's house
as office, a humble bicycle as ferry and eyes to track the
smoke trail of a rocket - these were the humble beginnings
when India launched a US-made rocket from Thumba, near here,
in 1963. Nearly 45 years later, the country is set to launch
its first lunar probe Oct 22.
launch of a US-made Nike-Apache Sounding Rocket from Thumba,
near Thiruvananthapuram, on Nov 21, 1963, marked the beginning
of India's space odyssey that has now reached a stage when
the country launches the satellites of other countries as
a commercial proposition.
the incident, R. Aravamudan, who has been associated with
the Indian space programme from the very beginning, says:
"There were no buildings yet in the range (Thumba Equatorial
Rocket Launching Station -TERLS). Our first office was in
the bishop's house and the St. Mary Magdalene church building
church has since become a space museum.
the rocket was launched, there was no telemetry or radar tracking,
only photography from three stations of the vapour cloud.
The orange vapour trail was visible from all over Kerala and
parts of Tamil Nadu. This created great excitement. Since
the common public had never seen such a sight before, it also
gave rise to some hilarious newspaper reports."
fact, the Kerala assembly, which was in session then, apparently
adjourned temporarily to take a good view of the bright vapour
trail in the western sky!"
Aravamudan recalled on Nov 21, 2003, during the 40th anniversary
of the first sounding rocket launch.
had to make use of public transport as there were no official
vehicles yet and no canteen. So, our day began with a quick
breakfast of idli sambar at the Railway Station Canteen, which
was the only place where we could get food to our taste. We
would then pack some snacks and lunch from the same canteen
and go to the bus stand to catch a mofussil bus to Kazhakkutam.
We would get down at the bus stand there and walk about a
kilometre or so to the range. The whole trip took about an
range (TERLS) was quite large in area and the only means of
transport within the range was by bicycle. Those like (A.P.J.
Abdul) Kalam, who could not cycle, had to hitch rides with
others." Aravamudan said in a speech, which was later
published in the Oct-Dec 2003 ISRO newsletter 'SPACE india'.
Aravamudan retired as director of ISRO Satellite Centre, Bangalore,
and later served as honorary advisor to ISRO.
the Nov 21, 1963, incident, K. Narayana Kurup, then a first-time
member of the Kerala assembly, told IANS that he had some
recollection of how the proceedings of the house were stopped
in order to view the blastoff of the Apache rocket from Thumba.
am turning 81 on Oct 23, and I do recall that the proceedings
of the assembly were stopped," said the veteran former
minister and deputy speaker, who retired from electoral politics
TERLS formally came into existence in 1962. It was renamed
the Indian Space Research Organisation and after the death
of Vikram Sarabhai, considered the father of India's space
programme, it became the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC).