A jump back in time
“We were wanderers and we are wanderers still.” – Carl Sagan
Humans have always been curious, and this curiosity has led them to explore about everything they can. That includes the universe, the space. Stars, moon, skies, and the heavens have intrigued us since time immemorial, and we started studying them and observing them. We slowly progressed step by step, becoming better at understanding space, and in the year 1961 mankind made history when the first man in space, Yuri Gargin, was launched by the USSR as part of its Vostok missions. In 1963 USSR also launched the first woman in space, Valentina Tereshkova aboard Vostok 6. The benchmark was set even further when USA sent the first two men, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, to step and walk on the moon aboard the Apollo 11 spacecraft in 1969. Since then human curiosity and space records have been on rise.
Where Does India Stand?
India has a very ambitious and successful space program headed by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), which operates under the Department of Space. India has achieved some major global benchmarks, and set a bar for the other nations that follow. Here are some of the major records set by ISRO on its journey of the Indian space dream:
- India’s the only country in the world to send a mission to mars in its maiden try. The mission was named ‘Mangalyaan’, and is an orbiter around the red planet. This feat was achieved in 2014, and set us back by $74 million, which when compared to the cost of NASA’s MAVEN mission to Mars the same year that amounts to $671 million, seems like a good deal. The movie Gravity had a higher production cost than Mangalyaan.
- In the year 2017 India set another world record of launching 104 satellites to space aboard a single spacecraft. The satellites included those of other nations too. The previous record of the highest number of satellites to be launched in a single mission was 37 satellites by Dnepr launcher of Russia in 2014 . Till date India has launched some 237 satellites for 29 countries.
- India’s three stage rocket PSLV or Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle is one of the most successful rockets in the world, having a success rate of near 99 percent, and is in very high demand.
- This year (2018), NASA has independently confirmed the discovery of polar water ice on the South pole of Moon by ISRO’s Chandrayaan orbiter.
- Most of ISRO’s technology has been indigenously developed.
What About Manned Missions by ISRO?
While India has been one of the leaders in space exploration, it still has goals to conquer, and one of them is to send a manned mission to space. On 15th August 2018, Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, announced that India aims to send Indians to space by the year 2022 at the most. This announcement has been received with both open hands and observant eyes. While some believe the goal is very ambitious without a set date, and will make it difficult for scientists to effectively communicate and correspond, head of ISRO, K. Sivan, says that ISRO has developed a lot of latest technologies that will help it realize the dream of manned space missions. If and when India succeeds in this feat, it will be the second Asian country, after China, and the fourth global country, after USA, Russia, and China, to send humans to space.
The plan is to send a spacecraft, named Ganganyaan (translation: Skycraft), aboard one of the most successful rockets, the GSLV-Mark III aka Geostationary Satellite Launch Vehicle- Mark 3. This mission will have enough space to carry three astronauts to space. More specifically the destination is 300-400 km above the surface of Earth, in the low-Earth orbit. For your information, space starts at just 100 kms above Earth’s surface. The rocket is a three stage rocket, of which the first two stages use solid fuel, and the third stage uses liquid fuel (LOX or Liquid Oxygen and, LH or Liquid Hydrogen) in its indigenously developed cryogenic engine.
There have been many advancements in ISRO’s mission to send humans to space. These include among many other things:
- In December 2014, ISRO successfully tested GSLV-MIII for atmospheric reentry and capsule recovery. The rocket amazingly withstood the atmospheric conditions of reentry without failure and ended with successful recovery of the capsule. Only the first two stages of the rocket were used, as then the third stage, a cryogenic liquid fuel engine, was still being developed and was inert. The launch was done from Satish Dhavan Space Centre in Sriharikota.
- On July 4, 2018 early morning, ISRO again successfully conducted a test of the rocket. This time the rocket mission was an unmanned test of the capsule deploy system or emergency pod escape system, which is used to safely separate the spacecraft capsule and carry it away from the rocket, in case of emergencies during or after launch. This test took around 200 seconds and was launched from Satish Dhavan Space Centre, and landed in the Bay of Bengal.
- The organization has also successfully developed Thermal Protection System, Subsystems of the Life support system, and many other critical technologies and equipment.
If everything goes well one can expect to witness India achieving another of its major feats and goals in the field of space exploration, adding another win to the list. This will surely open gateways to many other achievements. The year 2022, and all the years that lead to it, are a crucial time for Indian space dream, a celebration in waiting. The tests are being successfully carried out, and technology checks out in quality and aim, let’s hope that remains the case.
“Per Aspera Ad Astra” – Roman Proverb (Translation: Through difficulties, to the stars.)
Shantanu Ashima Gaur,