The NASA Apollo program still fascinates me tremendously. I consider it as one of the foremost technological achievements of the human race. From Kennedy’s great speech in 1962 to Neil Armstrong’s famous words at the Sea of Tranquility, this program achieved the near impossible in less than 8 years! Just goes onto show that if mankind puts its focus and priorities in the right place, nothing is impossible.
But, I am digressing a little bit from the primary topic of this brief article. Let’s take a step back and see where India was in 1969. It was a country that was still struggling to achieve the most basic needs of its people. The Green Revolution was in progress, but the ultimate objectives were still not realized. Economic isolation and certain other policies had put a dent in the progress towards a vision that many saw on 15th August 1947. India’s share of global trade which was near 8% just after the Second World War had fallen to less than 4%. The outlook didn’t look that great for the future. And around this exact same period, on August 15, 1969 Dr. Vikram Sarabhai established ISRO – Indian Space Research Organization. Dr. Sarabhai had actually started work on the Indian space program much earlier, in 1962 under the leadership of Dr. Homi Bhaba.
Dr. Sarabhai’s dream has definitely come a long way. From the sounding rockets of the 1970s, to the SLV and ASLV program in 1980s, and further to the PSLV and the GSLV programs, the program moved forward at a steady pace, certain setbacks notwithstanding. And then in 2008, the Chandrayaan mission finally moved to the ‘launching pad’. During the past 4 weeks, various critical intermediate steps were successfully completed. From the launch on the cloudy morning of Oct 22 to the various orbit altering maneuvers that finally inserted Chandrayaan into a close circular orbit around the moon, the mission progressed like clockwork precision. And finally on Nov 14th around 8pm IST, the ‘MIP’ (Moon Impact Probe) separated from the orbiting module and started a controlled decent towards the moon. At 8:30pm IST, the MIP landed on the surface of the moon near it’s south pole and elevated India into that select special list of countries that have achieved this feat earlier.
I would like remember November 14th 2008 as India’s July 21 1969. Yes, we just landed an unmanned probe and not an astronaut. Still from where we have come, it is still an achievement worth cherishing for a long time! And the fact that this mission progressed so smoothly, is further testament to the glorious efforts of the ISRO scientists. Let’s wish for even greater success for the future Chandrayaan and other ISRO space missions.
Here is a list of useful references if you are interested in learning more about the Chandrayaan mission.
1 The ISRO website has a lot of good information about the overall Indian space program
2 The Wikipedia article on the Chandrayaan mission provides excellent technical details on the mission.
3 ‘Destination Moon’ is a nice short book about the Chandrayaan mission, written by Pallava Bagla and Subhadra Menon (Published by Harper Collins in 2008). It describes India’s quest for the moon and beyond, and also provides a brief history of the Indian space program.
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