ISRO just made history with Chandrayaan 2, launching a rover on board its second mission to the Moon. The Indian Space Research Organisation has come a long way from its early days.
It may surprise some of you to know that ISRO was actually formed way back in 1962. The Indian National Committee for Space Research, as it was then called, was formed under the leadership of Vikram Sarabhai and physicist Kalpathi Ramakrishna Ramanathan.
At the time they had no resources to speak of, a small pool of scientists, and barely any funding. In fact, for the first rocket they launched a year later, they were transporting the parts to be assembled by bicycle. And now, more than 50 years later, we’re launching rockets to the Moon, Mars, and beyond.
So here are some of the greatest milestones in ISRO’s history.
1.India launches its first rocket
It was just a year after INCOSPAR was formed, in 1963, that Indian launched its first rocket into space. The sounding rocket, meant for probing the upper atmosphere, was launched from the Thumba Equatorial Rocket Launching Station in the fishing village of Thumba, Kerala, now known as the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre.
Dr APJ Adbul Kalam, who was on the rocket launch team at the time, describes how INCOSPAR had to acquire land from a local church and relocate the villagers before preparations could begin. Then, they were moving rocket components to the launch pad via bicycle. Finally, on November 21, 1963, they launched the rocket in the presence of eminent scientists like Dr Homi Bhabha.
2. First satellite launch
The Aryabhata spacecraft, named after the famous Indian astronomer, was India’s first satellite ever launched. Though it was completely designed and fabricated in India, it was launched on board the Soviet Kosmos-3M rocket on April 19, 1975.
3.First Indian-made rocket launch by ISRO
Where the Nike-Apache rocket launched in 1963 was supplied by NASA, ISRO went on to build its first launch vehicle, the Satellite Launch Vehicle-3 (SLV-3). It was our first experimental satellite launch vehicle, a solid four-stage rocket weighing 17 tonnes, and capable of placing 40 kg class payloads in Low-Earth Orbit.
It was launched on July 18, 1980 from the Sriharikota Range, with the Rohini satellite RS-1 on board. This officially made us the sixth nation to independently put an indigenously-made vehicle into space.
4. ISRO testing satellites with bullock carts
By 1981, ISRO had its first indigenous satellite to launch, the Ariane Passenger Payload Experiment (APPLE), an experimental communication satellite. In order to test it for electro-magnetic cleanliness, ISRO had to make do with a makeshift test facility mounted on a bullock cart.
5. Sending first Indian citizen in space
Indian astronaut Rakesh Sharma was part of a joint manned mission between India and the Soviet Union, Back in 1984, he spent eight days on board the Russian space station Salyut 7, making him the only Indian national to date to ever go to space
6. ISRO’s PSLV makes its debut
The modern-day ISRO workhorse, the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, made its first flight in 1997. Since then, versions of the rocket have been used to put all kinds of satellites into orbit.
In 1999, the PSLV launched for orbit with three different satellites on board, one Indian, one Korean, and one German. It was the first time we’d ever launched more than on satellite at a time.
8.First launch of ISRO’s GSLV
In 2001, we saw the Geo-synchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) launch for the first time, 18 years before it took our satellite to the moon for the second time.
9.Recovering a launch for the first time
In 2007, we launched the Space Capsule Recovery Experiment (SRE – 1) for the first time. It was a capsule containing experiments that would be performed in microgravity, before being returned to Earth and recovered. The mission provided valuable experience in navigation, guidance and control during the re-entry phase, provided us a chance to develop reusable thermal protection systems (TPS), and basically start us on the path towards reusable launch vehicles.
In 2008, ISRO pulled off its biggest achievement yet, getting a satellite into orbit around the Moon during the Chandrayaan-1 mission. That eventually led to a pathbreaking discovery of water on the Moon.
11.India’s mission to Mars
Five years later, in 2013, ISRO looked even further to Mars. The space agency launched the Mangalyaan/Mars Orbiter Mission, finally inserting it into martian orbit in 2014, from where it’s been streaming data ever since.
And now with Chandrayaan 2, ISRO has put another feather in its illustrious cap, showing the world how to launch rockets in space on a tight budget. And giving a nation of over a billion people a reason to believe that anything is possible.