THUMBA: NOVEMBER 21 1963: Forty-seven years ago today a huge crowd of space scientists had gathered at this picturesque rocket launching station near Thiruvanathanapuram airport for an important space event which was to take place in the evening.
At twilight, the first rocket from an Indian soil would be lifting off. There was a lot of excitement, understandbly mixed with a feeling of nervous apprehension. The scientists, which included APJ Abdul Kalam, were waiting for the big historical moment.
Dusk was setting and as the countdown clock was nearing the zero mark, there was a lot of excitement in Thumba and Tamilnadu.
T-0 and we are a go for launch. At this point the grand moment arrived. A two-stage Nike-Apache sounding rocket supplied by Nasa thundered off the launch pad triggering a loud round of applause among those who had gathered to witness the launch. In a way India had entered the space age at that very moment. A sounding rocket is used for carrying out atmospheric studies.
As this rocket lifted off, the Kerala Legislative Assembly was adjourned for a few minutes to allow its members to witness the grand take off. The two-stage rocket, weighing 715 kg, powered by solid propellants rose to an altitude of 208 kms, releasing sodium vapour which lit up the sky, Former Isro chairman, Madhavan Nair, who was standing on the roof of the building of the engineering college at Kolathoor remarked: ``It was a proud moment. There was a trail of sodium vapour. It was a remarkable sight for younsters like me,'' he said APJ Abdul Kalam was among those present during the launch.
E.V.Chitnis, who was a part of the rocket team called the launch as an international effort. The Nike Apache rocket was from Nasa, the sodium vapour payload was French and the range clearance was provided by an MI-4 helicopter, a product of the former Soviet Union and of course the rocket and payload engineers were from India.
The mating of the rocket and the payload was carried out at the St.Mary Magdelene's Church in Thumba. The mission was not trouble-free. There were problems in integrating the payload, but they were sorted out.
For example,there were hitches while integrarting the payload with the rocket. But, they were resolved. The project was a mixture of the past and present The space age components were ferried to the launch complex, not by a modern vehicle, but a bullock cart.
The launch of this Nasa-supplied rocket opened the way for new chapters in Indian space history eventually culminating in Chandrayaan-1, India's first mission to the moon.
How may are aware of this? Not many, It is a story from the St Mary Magdelene's Church to the moon which began today----November 21, 1963,