Jigar Patel Driving fast in a slow lane!

Humble beginnings of ISRO

December 17, 2013 / Jigar Patel

Mangalyaan is on its way to Mars. If everything goes as planned, on 24th September, 2014, India will enter an elite club of nations (Europe, USA and Russia) who have carried out successful Mars missions.

Considering all the milestones acheived by ISRO, it is hard to belive the humble beginnings it started from. ISRO was in a literal sense a “Lean Startup”.

It all started in 1962, when Indian National Committee for Space Research (INCOSPAR) was formed by Department of Atomic Energy. Dr. Vikram Sarabhai, who was its chairman, assembled a team of some brilliant engineers and scientists. Some of them were handpicked by Dr. Sarabhai, while some were persuaded by Dr. Sarabhai to leave their plush jobs in western countries behind and work on national space programme.

In 1963, the team launched their first rocket from Thumba, Kerala. The rocket (Apache-Nike) was imported from USA, the payload was French and the range clearance was given by a Russian helicopter. The rocket was imported in parts and had to be assembled. INCOSPAR didn’t even have a workshop. A makeshift laboratory cum workshop was setup in a church in Thumba village. Ours is the only space programme in the world that started in a Church :-)

Since the organization was given limited budget, there were no proper facilities for scientists and engineers. They stayed in a lodge near Thumba station. The only mode of transportaion available to them was cycles which also served as goods carriers. They didn’t have a fleet of helpers and laborers, and they themselves had to carry the parts, fuel and payload on cycles to launch site.

In spite of all these difficulties, the team assembled the rocket and launched it successfully on 21st November, 1963. India’s space programme got officially started that day. By 1967, we had a full “swadeshi” rocket - Rohini 75. A few years later, ISRO was formed and it carried us to space age by building super successful and efficient PSLV and GSLV rockets.

Update - This is the church in Thumba village where it all started.