The Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and the country’s space programme have achieved a landmark with a successful 100th mission, powered by an indigenous Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) launched from Sriharikota on Sunday.
Hundred is no sacred and special number but the launch shows how much the country has traversed in about 50 years in mastering the space flight technology and harnessing it for national good. When space research was initiated in the early 1960s, it was even criticised as an overambitious and unnecessary venture not suited for a poor country. But the credit for taking the first small step should go to the foresight of Jawaharlal Nehru and the vision of Vikram Sarabhai who knew that the programme would in future become an integral part of the country’s development, defence and international relations ventures.
After the launch of a small-sounding rocket from Thumba in the sixties and that of an experimental satellite Arybhata from the Soviet Union in 1975, the space programme has progressed to the exploration of the lunar surface. It has gained expertise in designing and making big rockets, launch vehicles and satellites. It has launched 62 satellites and 37 rockets till now, and the PSLV has proved to be a strong and reliable vehicle.
Space technology is an integral and enabling part of services in many areas like education, weather studies, resource mapping, telecomunications, banking and defence. The country is among the advanced space-faring nations and has collaboration with other space agencies. It has also commercially used its expertise by putting other countries’ satellites into space. Sunday’s mission actually carried two foreign satellites into space. There is a proud agenda for the future with the planned manned space flight and the Mars mission scheduled for next year.
There have been setbacks in the form of launch failures and the odd controversy that has sometimes centred around ISRO. But the leadership and the scientists and engineers of the organisation have not lost sight of the big goals, have worked against odds and recovered from failures. International sanctions were made opportunities to learn lessons in self-reliance. Development of the geosynchronous satellite launch vehicle (GSLV) using cryogenic technology is the next major challenge. Big communication satellites can be launched only after mastering this technology. The hopes and pride of the nation should propel ISRO to meet the challenge.