The giant that is ISRO

The Indian Space Research Organisation has reached new zeniths of triumph and is basking in the glory of holding a world record that is here to stay for a long time. ISRO became the first space organization to launch 104 satellites at one go in its PSLV-C37 rocket from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota, which included the Cartosat-2 series satellite and 103 co-passenger satellites. Out of the 104, only 3 satellites were from India and 96 were of US origin. By doing so, ISRO surpassed the previous world record held by Russia’s Dnepr rocket which launched 39 satellites in June 2014.

All this sounds unreal and dreamlike but when we pinch ourselves, we realise that it is not a fairytale. The feat has made us feel proud of our nation.

It all started in 1969, when independent India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, with the help of his close aide and scientist Vikram Sarabhai formed ISRO. It is said that at the time of its inception, some of ISRO’s operations were planned inside a cow shed. In 1972, the Department of Space was established and ISRO was brought under it – its satellite centre was set up in Bangalore and space applications centre in Ahmedabad.

Named after the famous mathematician Aryabhatta, ISRO built India’s first satellite named Aryabhatta which was launched by the erstwhile Soviet Union on 19 April 1975. In 1980, Rohini became the first satellite to be launched by an Indian-made launch vehicle, SLV-3. Later on ISRO created two rockets, namely the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) that launched satellites into polar orbits and the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV) which placed satellites into geostationary orbits. Apart from these two launch vehicles, ISRO also has the RLV (Reusable Launch Vehicle) and the GSLV Mark-III.

ISRO faced its first failure in 1987 when it didn’t succeed in launching the Augmented SLV (ASLV) with the satellite SROSS-1. In its third attempt in 1992, ISRO successfully launched the ASLV. It met with a failed attempt of the first development flight of PSLV in 1993 before finally achieving success in 1994.

ISRO stepped into the 21st century with a sweet taste of victory in 2001 when it successfully completed the launch of the GSLV rocket with GSAT-1 satellite. The biggest achievement of the organisation in the first decade of the 21st century was the Chandrayaan-1 on October 22, 2008 in which ISRO sent one lunar orbiter, which happened to be India’s first mission to moon. This was followed by one of ISRO’s biggest and probably most successful mission, the Mangalyaan. Launched on November 5, 2013, the Mars Orbiter Mission entered Mars orbit on September 24, 2014 making India the first Asian nation to reach Mars orbit, the fourth space agency in the world to do so, the first nation to reach the Mars orbit in its first attempt and most importantly the least expensive Mars mission till date.

Despite being the world’s youngest space agency, ISRO proves that India has the potential to race past the world and has earned global accolades. But currently comparing it to NASA, European Space Agency or Russian Space Agency will be incorrect partly because of the head start ISRO had and partly because, while those three agencies work on variety of domains, ISRO’s focus lies on the creation and innovation of utilitarian technologies like geographic satellites and launching probes. ISRO has covered a long journey but more badges of honour await which require hard work, time and money to turn the dreams into reality.

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