The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) turns 40 tomorrow. It is the implementing agency of the Indian Space Programme. At its 40th anniversary, it has a lot to look back on and lots more to look forward to.
The agency was formed as the Indian National Committee for Space Research under the leadership of Vikram Sarabhai in 1962. The group was helped and supported under the Department of Atomic Energy by its then Secretary, Dr Homi J Bhaba. The group taken from the talent pool of India's Nuclear Energy Programme delivered hardly one year later on November 21, 1963 when it held the first successful launch of a Nike-Apache sounding rocket from the Thumba Equatorial Launching Station (TERLS) in Thumba, Kerala.
Beginning with a programme studying cosmic rays, ionosphere studies, sounding rocket studies India jumped to the Aryabhata in 1975, India's first indigenously developed satellite for studying X Rays, Aeronomy and Solar Physics. The satellite gave Indian scientists the confidence to build satellites here in India. Aryabhata re-entered Earth in 1992 after completion of its mission life. India also launched its Earth observation programme with the launch of the experimental Bhaskara I in 1979.
The data sent back by Bhaskara was used in Forestry and Ocean Research. These experiences and successes coupled with the changing geopolitical situation of the world forced India to develop its own Satellite Launch Vehicle.
The development and first launch of SLV-3 was made famous in Dr APJ Abdul Kalam's autobiography, Wings of Fire. The first launch attempt in 1979 with the Rohini payload experiment failed. We went back to the flight station on July 1980 took India's indigenous satellite on an indigenous launch vehicle in to orbit. This marks India's real entry into space on July 18, 1980. Earlier launches were done using the US' Delta, Europe's Ariane and the Soviet Union's Intercosmos rockets.
ISRO has rarely looked back from there and has grown in leaps and bounds. The development of the ASLV programme and later the PSLV programme (developed by ISRO's current Chairman, Dr. Madhavan Nair) and the GSLV programme hoped to reduce India's dependance on launch vehicles of other countries. Today, India provides launch services on board the PSLV through ISRO's commercial arm, Antrix Corporation. In 2008, with the launch of Chandrayaan 1, the PSLV proved its versatility in launching everything from nanosatellites to spacecrafts to the Moon. GSLV will reduce India's dependence of Ariane 5 which it uses for satellites weighing more than 1.5 tons.
ISRO has provided India TV and DTH services, communication services which aided India's IT revolution, services such as telemedicene and tele-education, climatic modelling, natural resources management services, Earth observation visualisation services such as Bhuvan, forest fires and disaster management services, search and rescue services putting into effect its tagline of using space technology in service of human kind.
Simultaneously, it has also developed various systems like Space Re-Entry Experiment, Chandrayaan 1, SROSS, Astrosat etc for space science research for India's scientists. Programme to take a human into Low Earth Orbit, a mission to Mars, a mission to study the Sun and other planetary exploration programmes including development of next generation of launch vehicle technology is on the cards over the next decade.
By the 50th anniversary of ISRO in 2019, we hope to see an Indian in orbit, missions to Mars, the asteroid belts and more missions to the Moon and perhaps a manned landing on the Moon while providing more services to human kind on Earth - navigation systems, improved climatic modelling, improved disaster management systems and telemedicene and tele-education for all!
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