ISRO : From Cowsheds To Outer Space [All Great Things Have A Humble Beginning]

As ISRO’s MOM entered Martian orbit yesterday morning, India made a permanent mark in the book of history to be the first Asian country to reach the giant red planet and the first country in the world to do so in its first attempt. Also India is the only country to have conducted it in such a small expense of  INR 4.54 billion (US$74 million).

MOM near the red planet
MOM near the red planet

What India showed the world today truly amazed everyone the world over and rightly so because for a developing nation to reach a distant planet is nothing less than a miracle. And yes, a miracle considering the way it all started.

It all started off at Thumba in Thiruvanthapuram, Kerala as Thumba Equatorial Rocket Launching Station (TERLS) in 1962. It was renamed to Vikram Sarabhai Space Research Center in honour of Dr. Vikram Sarabhai, the father of the Indian space program. As Dr. Vasanth Gowariker, Ex Director of Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre remembers, he was given a cow shed and accompanying cattle feed shop to set up his laboratory back then.

Dr. Vikram Sarabhai

Dr. Sarabhai, a physicist and the pioneer in Indian Space Research had inspired and instigated many other scientists who developed on the projects in collaboration with Russia and France. In 1963 the Nike-Apache, a NASA developed rocket was launched from TRELS and was the first rocket deployed from TRELS. From then on India’s romance with outer space has only grown and spanned over half a century.

Vikram Sarabhi, in a speech, mentions that Indian space research was about boosting the nation’s confidence and self reliability.  He believed that this benefits that the nation would acquire from the space research had far outweighed anything else.

In 1975, India developed its first indigenous satellite Arybhatta, named after the famous Indian astronomer from the classical age of Indian astronomy during the 5th century. It was launched by the Soviet Union using a Kosmos-3M launch vehicle on 19 April 1975. The satellite was developed by ISRO to learn about developing and operating a satellite in outer space. The first giant step that Indian made.

Aryabhata - India's first Indigenous satellite
Aryabhata – India’s first Indigenous satellite

For Soviet Russia, this was nothing more than a generous gesture to provide a rocket to India to put the satellite in orbit. But to a beginner like India, it meant a lot.

The SITE (Satellite Instructional Television Experiment) was another experimental satellite communication project that was jointly done by ISRO and NASA. The project made informational television available in rural India. The project continued for a year till July 1976 and covered over 2400 villages in the country. This proved that India could use advanced satellite communication to fulfill its social economic needs. Illiteracy was a major issue with development in India and such means created ways for mass development and India could carry on with more such experiments successfully.

After half a decade today, India has the largest fleet of remote sensing satellites which provides info from crop yields to studies on mineralogy.  The signals from IRS are available in Okhlahoma, Germany, Thailand, Japan, Korea, Dubai and Saudi Arabia. For a country like India to develop to this magnitude needed a lot of hard work and initiatives. With the right moves and many experiences, today we are just 430 kilometers away from the neighboring red planet.


Indian space Research is the ideal example of a Indian startup going global. What started off in the cow shed is now next to mars. Self sustenance, or bootstrapping as it is called, is what Vikram Sarabhai dreamed for the country after the first launch from Thumba. Sure we did it. We also had a lot of help from other developed nations, a generous gesture for them as mentioned earlier, but we did climb up from every step we took and have only moved forward. ISRO is also in talks for proposal over manned mission to outer space and yes, we will do that too.

Aren’t we one hell of a nation of entrepreneurs?

 [Image credit : wikipedia. ISRO]

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