September 24th 2014 was a golden day in the annals of Indian space exploration for the scientific community of India. Mission to Mars was a big success considering that it was a first attempt by Indian Space Research Organisation. While congratulating the team headed by Dr Radhakrishnan for this achievement, we could not forget yester-year stalwarts in the field of space science and technology

Our space programmes date back to 1960s when the then ‘ever’ energetic Dr Vikram Sarabhai established Space Science and Technology Centre in Trivandrum. He picked a handful of Indian scientists working in foreign industries and research establishments to form a team. The team consisted of young engineers and seasoned scientists likeDr Vasant R Gowariker, Prof H G S Murthy, Dr A E Muthunayagam, Dr A Janardhana Rao, Mr T Aravamudhan to name a few. This was a powerful team and a number of projects were initiated  by the members of the team

Various facilities like Space Science and Technology Centre (SSTC), Thumba Equatorial Rocket Launching Station(TERLS), Rocket Fabrication Facility(RFF) and Rocket Propellant Plant(RPP) were created for the research, development and production of solid propellants, propulsion technology, fabrication, material science, aeronautics, control guidance, space physics, electronics and instrumentation, test stations and small launch pads. During the late 60s and early 70s pencil rockets like Rohini -50, Rohini – 100 and few sounding rockets were fabricated and test fired by our scientists successfully

Scientists like Mr A P J Abdul Kalam, Mr Easwar Das, Mr M R Kurup and Prof U R Rao joined the team and  the visibility of our space programmes  increased during 70s. When the visionary Dr Vikram Sarabhai died in mysterious circumstances , it cast a huge shadow on ISROs programmes. Prof Satish Dhawan, Director of IISC, Bangalore and Dr Brahm Prakash a leading metallurgist BARC, who joined ISRO as Chairman and Director respectively tried to fill the vacuum and succeeded partially. ISROs scientific community got enriched by the addition of Dr Mukerji, Dr Ramnath(nephew of Sir C V Raman), Prof Yashpal and Dr Amba Rao and subsequently small teams were formed to create advanced technology based workshops and laboratories in the fields of satellite development, aerospace engineering, structural designs etc.

A second line of engineers and technologists like Dr Chitnis, Mr K Venkatachari, Mr P D Mujumdar, Dr K V C Rao, Mr R Vasagam, Dr Suresh and Mr Nambinarayanan, actively participated in the development of space technology ably guided by our premier scientists. Our space programmes started taking shape in the form of Satellite Launch Vehicle (SLV), Augmented Satellite Launch Vehicle (ASLV), Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle(PSLV) and Geo-synchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle(GSLV)

Under the chairmanship of Prof Satish Dhawan, ISRO shifted its headquarters to Bangalore and expanded its network to several places in India, prominent being SHAR Centre in Sriharikota, Andhra Pradesh, Space Application Centre, Ahmadabad, Gujarat, ISRO telemetry tracking and command centre(ISTRAC) and ISRO satellite assembly(ISAC) in Bangalore. Valiamala, near Trivandrum and Mahendragiri in Tamil Nadu were identified to develop liquid propulsion technology. Dr U R Rao followed by Dr Kasthuri Rangan took over the chairmanship and under their leadership development of satellite, control guidance and stage separation, production of propellants, propulsion technology up-gradation and electronic controls were mastered. These activities were supervised by able scientists and engineers like Dr V Srinivasan, Mr Sitarama Sastry, Dr Vasantha, Mr Madhavan Nair Prof. Dikshasilu and Mr Vedachalam

Many support activities like computer programming, non-destructive testing, satellite management, space debris management, static test facility were ably handled by technocrats and engineers like Dr Goel, Dr Athimurthy, Mr K Viswanathan, Dr K Narayanan, Dr K Annamalai and few others. Defence establishments like DRDO and BEL also contributed to the success of the space programmes. In  return ISRO developed the propellants  and the vehicles for short range missiles Prithvi  and long range missiles Agni

Under the chairmanship of Mr Madhavan Nair new faces appeared in the scientific community which had high level of exposure at the entry level and the space programmes gained momentum . This culminated in the development of bigger satellites and larger vehicles during 90s and 2000s. We also developed expertise in sending several satellites in a single payload through PSLVs and GSLVs. The growth and expansion of space technology in the corridors of ISRO lead us to launch a lunar orbiter Chandrayan which was a success and brought laurels to our scientists

When Dr Radhakrishnan  followed by Prof Kiran Kumar, as chairpersons, further expanded our space programmes with a mission to Mars(Mangalyan) in 2014, which was a record’ first time success’ and single payload putting 104 satellites into orbit in 2017, which was again a record the whole world recognised us as a super power in space technology. Every Indian is proud of the achievements of our nuclear and space scientists.

While congratulating our present day scientists for their stupendous achievements, let us not forget to salute our yesteryear stalwarts who paved the way for such giant successes

G Krishnan  –  Former ISRO scientist who was the fore-runner in the development of cryogenic propellant based rocket motors


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