Sunday, November 7, 2010

Rockets---not on the launch pad, but in a room!

         Something different. Of course it is about rockets and satellites. But, for a change not on the launch pad, but in our own room. Either on tables or inside a huge glass case as it in our room at Breach Candy in Mumbai.

         Being a space addict my hobby is to collect rocket and satellite models which is extremely difficult in India. Over the years, with some difficulty I have collected models of the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) and the Geo Synchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV). I hope I get more such models! Honestly, I am not too happy with my tiny model of the Chandrayaan-1.

        Some years ago my wife Usha and daughter, Rimanika and I, visited the St Mary Magadelene's Church, in Thumba near Thiruvanathanapuram where the Indian space programme began in the 60s. Visiting the museum was a fantastic and educative experience which inspired Rimu to put her forehead on the table used by Dr APJ Abdul Kalam as a sign of reverance. When we came out of this lovely museum I thought there will be a shop selling models. But, there was none.

        Talking about models, I recall while returning to Chennai after a covering a PSLV launch at Sriharikota by train from Sullerpetta--the nearest town to the great spaceport--a man boarded our compartment carrying brass models of the PSLV having a red digital clock. I inquired about the price and guess what it was? A mere Rs 60. I felt very excited and immediately said I would like to buy two of them. But,what was his answer?  He said no because he wanted the permission of his boss before he could sell them!  I still do not know why he mentioned the price if he had no intention of selling them!

        I asked him where his boss was, he said Chennai. I said I will accompany him to his boss once we disembark at Chennai. He evaded the issue, but gave me his card. He was based in Sullerpetta. I decided I will try and contact him when I next go to Sullerpetta. The chance came in March 2001, when I was assigned to cover the first launch of GSLV (it did not lift off.) Since I had to spend a week in Chennai, I went one day to Sullerpetta, a few days before the launch in search of the rocket model maker and try my luck with the brass model of the PSLV. I made inquiries with the locals and managed to locate his house. It was locked! Luck ran out again!

        In the summer of 1995, my wife Usha and I spent two months criss crossing the US. At a shop next to the Statute of Liberty in New York I brought a model of Saturn V--the rocket which took the first man to the moon. While boarding the flight for Mumbai at JFK International Airport in New York, the Air India security did not allow me to carry the box with pieces of the model as a hand baggage as they felt it constituted a security threat! I was shocked!  His refusal triggered a heated argument between me and the security guy. I explained to him that it was ironical that very rocket which brought honour to the US was being viewed as a security threat.

       The Air-India security official consulted his colleagues and finally he relented though reluctantly and perhaps a bit suspiciously too!

       In Mumbai, guess who assembled the rocket patiently?  Not me. Usha. She studied the literature,.and carefully got the pieces together and the rocket began taking shape. In a week it became a full rocket with the launch escape tower. It is a great and awesome model enclosed in a large glass case along with other models and dominates our room.

       Close your eyes and open it and look at the black and white model and you will be instantly transported for a second to launch pad 39A at Nasa's Kennedy Space Centre.where the real 363 feet Saturn V stood in July 1969 before embarking on its lunar mission.

       What is my wish? The Air India security guy at JFK, who viewed it as security threat in June 1995 when we taking the flight to Mumbai, who perhaps might have since retired, should one day come and see the model in our room!




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