Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons
“The roof leaked and equipment was being transported by ox carts and bicycles, but in the abandoned St. Mary Magdalene Church, along the southern coast of India, there was no room for pessimism. There, in 1962, with rocket prototypes crowding the pews, India’s space program was being born” (U.R. Rao, Pioneer of India’s Space Program, Dies at 85 by Amisha Padnani, nytimes.com, Aug. 11, 2017).
For some of you, it may come as a surprise that right along with NASA, ESA (Europe’s space agency), and Roscomos (Russia’s space agency) is the ISRO, the Indian Space Research Organization. The ISRO had very humble beginnings and would set itself apart in its founding goals. While the U.S. and Russia were duking it out for space primacy in a galactic cold war battlefield, India was looking to solve some its poverty and hunger woes. “And helping to steer it was U.R. Rao, who believed that science—particularly aerospace science—could help his country solve its food shortages and eradicate poverty” (U.R. Rao, Pioneer of India’s Space Program, Dies at 85 by Amisha Padnani, nytimes.com, Aug. 11, 2017).
Some basic facts of the ISRO (taken from archive.india.gov): the space agency was founded in 1969. The seventies was an era marked by satellite experimentation. The eighties was an era of vehicle operationalization. The agency’s most significant milestone was in 2005-2006 with the successful launch of Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV-C6). Recently, they achieved a successful launch of the most satellites at a time.“An ISRO rocket launch in February  blew a space flight record out of the water by launching 104 satellites all at once.” (Here’s Why you Should Pay Close Attention to India’s Space Program by Miriam Kamer, Mashable, June 9, 2017)
What was particularly important with the multi-satellite launch was the fact that they had made it a part government part private launch. To help pay for their space program, India has been courting companies that need to launch satellites for their operations, and it has been paying out big time for them, as it is difficult for smaller private companies to arrange a launch through a national space agency. “Many private companies are developing satellites that they need for their operations, but most cannot afford to launch these independently. So, they need to piggyback on missions from agencies like ISRO that have launch facilities.” (Why India’s Commercial Space Programme is Thriving by Yogita Limaye, bbc.com, Sept. 26, 2016) India’s space agency is fully aware of the commercial side of their program and is quick to cite the cheaper labor costs and their constant efforts toward efficiency.
As India’s space program continues to stack success upon success in an increasingly rapid speed as well as continuing to integrate itself with private technology companies, it is becoming an impressive space agency right along with its bigger brothers, NASA, EAU, and Roscomos. It is also setting itself apart from their super successful brethren in setting thrift, speed of growth through nimble hierarchies, decision making, and national private collaborations as high priorities versus nationalistic competition. Essentially, they know they are small but also see how being small can have some great advantages.
For me, growing up in California not far from the NASA Ames Research Center where there was always a field trip or two to the center, NASA will always be my first love and introduction to exploration into outer space. My love never ended for space exploration—and really it ignited a passion for all types of exploration—including the mind, the heart, and whether or not there is a meaning to life. The Indian Space Research Organization is worth checking out and following their progress. It is extremely exciting that a smaller agency with far less money and material support can with heart and creativity achieve great things—and perhaps come up with something that no giant could. Sometimes the small can succeed in ways that the large cannot—and I think that will be good for all of humanity. So hats off, India—I’ve got another space agency to follow and cheer on.
For more information on the ISRO, you can check out their site here.
Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons