On November 21, 1963, that India’s first rocket launch from Thumba, announcing the beginning of the modern space journey of India. The Thumba village soon came to be known as (TERLS)Thumba Equatorial Rocket Launch Station which later became (VSSC)Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre. It was named in honor of Dr. Vikram Sarabhai (Father of the Indian space program)

This is the Amazing story Behind India’s first rocket launch, the birth of India’s space program.

India's first rocket launch

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The location of this Thumba village caught the interest of Dr. Vikram Sarabhai (father of India’s space programme). before being chosen for India’s first rocket launch the village site was like traditional Kerala fishing hamlet with thatched huts,  peaceful sea, and coconut groves, it was an unlikely location for a rocket launch station. However, a small church in a Thumba village that was located on the Earth’s magnetic equator caught the interest of Dr. Vikram Sarabhai.

The magnetic Equator

Megnetic Eqator

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The magnetic equator is an irregular imaginary line around the earth near the equator, that connects all the points where a magnetic needle, when freely suspended, is horizontal. Look wise the site is not important but scientifically it is important because the magnetic equator is all where the Equatorial Electrojet presents – An electron beam, about 110-120 km above the Earth’s surface.

Test and study these electrons for research in the fields of physics, astronomy, and meteorology is the first step by Any space programme while launching the rocket first time. Dr. Sarabhai felt that Thumba village was the best place to launch a rocket. In fact, Thumba’s location is ideal for low-altitude, upper atmosphere, and ionosphere studies.

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Dr. Sarabhai with his fellow scientists (including Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam) one fine day, went to Thumba village to talk to the then-bishop of Trivandrum whos house was adjacent to the church. Scientists were interested in acquiring the church along with nearby land for their first rocket launch. Instead of giving them a definite answer, the bishop asked them to attend the Sunday mass that week, where he would put the question to the parishioners.

inda's first rocket launch ISRO's first office

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On Sunday at the mass, the bishop explained the launch mission and asked the permission of his villagers to hand over the church to the scientists. This particular incident beautifully described by Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam In his book “Ignited Minds: Unleashing the Power Within India“.

Scientists thanks to the bishop’s efforts, permission was granted and the villagers relocated to a new village with a brand new church in 100 days flat. The church converted to the workshop, the bishop’s became an office and cattle sheds become storage houses and laboratories.

With a Few facilities and low funding, a handful of young Indian scientists began assembling India’s first rocket. Dr. Sarabhai carefully selected these engineer and scientists who are best at that time in the sound rocket field. Former President APJ Abdul Kalam and veteran scientist R Aravamudan are among the early recruits.

India's first rocket at launching pad

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There are no canteen facilities at Thumba In the initial stages, so the scientists would cycle every day to the Trivandrum railway station for their breakfast and dinner. Due to lack of transportation facilities, even payloads and rocket parts were transported by bicycle and bullock carts to the launch pad. This is how India’s first rocket launch staged—that of a Nike-Apache rocket supplied by NASA.

india's first rocket launch brought on biicycle

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After six months of hard work, on 21 November 1963, India was all set for its first rocket launch. Many big names in the field of science and technology had gathered for this historical event, including  Dr. P R Pirashoty (the founder director of Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology) and Dr. Homi J. Bhabha (the father of Indian nuclear programme). Kerala’s Governer was also there along with the bishop and the district collector.

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vikram sarabhai with homi bhabha

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There is a certain issue created while the rocket was rolled out on to the launch pad. including hydraulic crane developed a leak and remote system of the launcher malfunctioned. Errors were fixed immediately and the things finally seemed in order. As the alarm sounded to clear the area around the launch pad, the project team held their breath.

At 6.25 pm, the world was watching as the rocket launched from the launch pad. India had successfully put its first signature on space.

India's first rocket launch site

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Now, Thumba became the hub of all space programmes handled by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). This is how a little church that helped India reach for the stars.