NIAS scientists to rebuild Tipu's famed Mysurean rocket

Will create 'fire arrow' with 'wootz steel', test-fire it at Challakere

NIAS scientists to rebuild Tipu's famed Mysurean rocket
A team of scientists from the National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS) will embark upon a rocket-building project with the sole intention of replicating Tipu Sultan’s Mysurean rockets, which had the British army running for cover over two centuries ago.

The scientists will try to reproduce ‘wootz steel’, a special type of high-carbon steel of the medieval times, to build this ‘fire arrow’, measuring one to two feet in height and 2.5 to 3.5 inches in diameter.

The plan is to test-fire it at the Challakere Aeronautical Test Range in Chitradurga district, in association with the Ministry of Defence and the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro), to assess its performance.

Aerospace scientist Prof Roddam Narasimha, who is leading the team, wants to bust the two extreme myths prevalent in the present-day India through this rocket-building project. One, that India gave birth to all the scientific and technological developments; and the other — that India heavily borrowed its science from Europe.

This will be Prof Narasimha’s third attempt at building the rocket, an idea which germinated three decades ago but never took off.

Interestingly, a theatre production, which is attempting to bring together three interdisciplinary themes — science, arts and technology — for a narrative on India’s military history and strategic culture, is giving a push to this rocket project.

Prof Narasimha told DH he was restarting the rocket-building project after NIAS agreed to incubate a historical play, ‘Vanguard – The story of Mysore Rockets’.

The two-and-a-half-hour play is being produced by the Bengaluru-based Actors Ensemble India Forum (AEIF), founded by theatre professional Mallika Prasad and playwright Ram Ganesh Kamatham.

Prof Narasimha said it would take anywhere between six months and a year to build the rocket. “It’s important to retell the story of the significance of Tipu’s Mysurean rockets and the metallurgy of the period, and how the technology was stolen by the British, inspiring big changes in Europe. It’s ironic that the only available replicas are displayed in London museums, not here,” he said.

Prasad and Kamatham, who have done extensive research on the subject under the Charles Wallace India Trust Research Scholarship, said one of the outcomes of Project Vanguard (aside from the play) would be an online video on Mysurean rockets.

They said they would produce a short film by documenting the entire artisanal process of building and firing of the rocket by NIAS. Replicas of the rocket for display purposes will be donated to interested museums, they added.

While the dates for the play are yet to be announced, a reading of the play has been organised at NIAS on October 23, between 5.30pm and 7.30 pm.

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