A joke about ``Beyond Moon and Mars (BMM) is that it was born with rocket fuel in its mouth!
Ever since BMM from its infancy developed a passion for space exploration, it has had a dream---that of visiting Baikonour in Kazakhsthan and Star City near Moscow where cosmonauts are trained. BMM has visited Nasa's Kennedy Space Centre twice, the European spaceport of Kourou in French Guyana once and of course several times our very own Satish Dhawan Space Centre, Sriharikota to cover a rocket launch.
But, BMM's dream of visiting Baikonour and Star City have so far remained unfulfilled. It hopes someday it will be able to go there and touch the launch pad from where Yuri Gagarin took off on April 12,1961 at Baikonour. BMM has laminated a small map of Baikonour which it has displayed in its room--a mini space centre--and looks at it every now and then!
Now it is Baikonour to Surat. A big jump. One may wonder what is the connection? Why Surat? BMM has visited Surat twice or thrice--a few hours drive from Mumbai en route to Ahmedabad. This quite town of Surat which rarely makes news shot into the international space arena recently.
And how? Not that the authorities are constructing a spaceport at Surat. It has rocketed into the stars thanks to a 19-year-old mechanical engineering student, Siddharth Kalra, a student of Sardar Vallabhai National Institute of Technology.
How did it happen? As part of the 50th anniversary celebrations of the first human spaceflight by Yuri Gagarin, the Russian Federal Space Agency, Roscosmos, the Russian Centre for Science and Culture, Mumbai, UNESCO, and another organisation known as Rossotrudnichestvo, organised a world space olympiad which saw the participation of nearly 50,000 space-crazy youngsters from all over the world.
The competition consisted of three rounds. The first two were on line and in the final test the candidates had to submit a project. Siddharth's disseration focussed on the development of astronautics and space exploration in the next 50 years.
Of the several who took part, 20 were short listed for the final round which consisted of facing a panel of examiners about their project at the Russian Centre For Science and Culture at Paris. And who were the examiners? They were Russian and European astronauts and cosmonauts, including the celebrated Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman to fly in space on June 16,1963.
Said Siddharth: ``At the end of my presentation Valentina told me that she saw in my eyes a future space explorer and space engineer. I hugged her. It was an honour to meet her,'' Siddharth told BMM.
The D-day was April 21. Siddharth will never forget this day. He was formally declared the world topper in the tough global space olympiad. What a moment for this talented and brilliant youngster!
The award consisted of among things a visit to Moscow, Baikonour and Star City which would surely make any spacebuff like BMM envious!!!!
As luck could have it, Siddharth arrived at Baikonour on the very day the Soyuz TMA-02M was being launched. It was June 7, 2011. He recalled: `` It was 2 a.m. at Baikonour and I was just a km away from the launch pad. I witnessed the terrific lift off the mighty and powerful rocket carrying three cosmonauts. I have never experienced a sound like that. It was monstrous. But, I also felt it was like sunrise, because the fiery plume of the rocket lit up the night sky. The vehicle was in sight for a few minutes. Then it gradually disappeared out of sight and its sound slowly began to fade away. What a sight and what a moment for me,'' he said.
Apart from the rocket launch, he also visited a few other facilities at Baikonour including an international school, where all the subjects are related to space from Std V. He was also shown the house where Gagarin slept the night before his historic mission which took off on April 12,1961. The highlight of his visit was shaking hands with the world's first spacewalker, Alexei Leonov. Leonov executed his feat on March 18,1965. ``Leonov congratulated me and I took his autograph. I found him to be an extremely nice person,'' Siddharth said.
At Star City, not far from Moscow, he visited the cosmonauts' training facilities and of course the office of Gagarin.
Siddharth's dream is to participate in India's space programme. He said: ``I hope I can witness a launch at Sriharikota.'' Next month there is a launch and BMM hopes that Isro will arrange for Siddharth to watch the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle lift off.
Congrats Siddharth! You have brought honour to your family, your college and above all India.Sure you are a role model for many youngsters. Instead of worshipping film stars, they should emulate your example.
You will definately make it to the stars.
Keep it up.