Monday, August 12, 2019

The start of India's space program

On the centenary birthday of Dr. Vikram Sarabhai, some remembrance of the beginnings of the Indian space program.

A Brief History of Rocketry in ISRO (2012)
PV Manoranjan Rao & P Radhakrishnan
Universities Press (India) ISBN 978-81-7371-763-5
page 2

"Independent India was lucky to have Jawaharlal Nehru as its first Prime Minister, for he shared a common ideal with Bhabha and Sarabhai.  He believed that modern science and technology were indispensable to the development of the country......Bhabha, in the 1950s and 60s, was considered the czar of organized research in India and, more importantly, had Nehru's ear!  Thus, when Sarabhai, with Bhabha's support, came up with a space initiative for the country, Nehru said 'yes' even though  the country was passing through a very difficult phase both economically and politically.

From Fishing Hamlet to Red Planet: India's Space Journey (2015)
Chief Editor P.V. Manoranjan Rao
HarperCollins, ISBN 978-93-517-689-5
page xix

"At that time India was facing severe economic and political hardships - there was a food shortage and that humiliating war in the north east.   Yet when Bhabha and Sarabhai came up with the space initiative, Nehru lent his wholehearted support.

India's Rise as a Space Power (2014)
Professor U.R. Rao
Foundation Books, ISBN 978-93-82993-48-3
Pages 7-8

"Given the background work of Dr Sarabhai and his co-workers at PRL and the expertise developed by Prof. Bernard Peters, Prof. M.G.K. Menon and their colleagues at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), Bombay, who had flown a number of balloons from Hyderabad to carry out cosmic ray investigations,  Dr Homi Bhaba [sic] invited Dr Vikram Sarabhai to become a member of the Atomic Energy Commission and initiate space activity under the the umbrella of the Department of Atomic Energy.  Dr V. Sarabhai constituted the Indian National Committee for Space Research (INCOSPAR) with Prof. E.V. Chitnis, ...."
Vikram Sarabhai - A Life (2007)
Amrita Shah
Penguin Books India, ISBN 978-0-67099-951-4
Pages 120-122, scattered excerpts

"When exactly Vikram came up with the notion of a space programme for India is not known.  R.G. Rastogi, his former student, claims to have heard him talk prophetically of setting up a rocket-launching programme 'by 1963' as far back as in the 1950s.  Praful Bhavsar, who had taken a leave of absence from PRL to do post-doctorate work at the University of Minnesota, recalls Vikram telling him something similar in 1959..."
"According to Rastogi, even Vikram's co-director at PRL, K.R. Ramanathan, was openly skeptical. 'He is too young, he has no idea how the government functions.  He will not get the money nor will establishment scientists allow it to happen.'...But Ramanathan had not counted on the chief weapon in Vikram's formidable arsenal of contacts: Homi J. Bhabha. 
It is tempting to speculate that Vikram and Bhabha, the two princes of Indian science, used their youthful days in Bangalore to spin up dreams for the future......It is tempting because of the uncanny sureness with which they set about their plans and their suggestion of complicity in so many of their actions. 
In August 1961, for instance, more than a year before the Chinese invasion and at a time when Nehru was still very much at the helm of the country's affairs, the union government, urged by Bhabha, identified an area known as 'space research and the peaceful uses of outer space' and placed it within the jurisdiction of the DAE.  As a part of the move, PRL was recognized as the 'appropriate centre' for research and development in space sciences.  And Vikram was co-opted into the board of the AEC.  More interestingly, in February 1962, the DAE created the Indian National Committee for Space Research (INCOSPAR) under Vikram's chairmanship to oversee all aspects of space research in the country.  Vikram had overcome the first seemingly impossible hurdle.