An Expedition to Sriharikota
The Indian Space Odyssey
“Twenty years from now you’ll be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream, Discover.”
-Mark Twain / H Jackson Brown Jr (Author Uncertain)
These words propelled a bunch of engineering students from SUIIT, Burla to step out of the safety nets for an expedition to Satish Dhawan Space Centre (SDSC), the heart of Indian Space Mission, situated on the island of Sriharikota in the SPS Nellore District of Andhra Pradesh State.
It’s the satellite launching center of the premier Indian Space Agency ISRO. Visiting an ISRO space center in 2019, its golden jubilee year, wasn’t less than any utopian moment for us!
Due to its nature of carrying out secret missions throughout the year, they can’t afford the interference of trespassers in their pursuit of social welfare. So only through having a strong network with any ISRO insiders, access can be granted to this secure zone for a very limited time. Aadhaar card and college ID along with formal attires were our saviours for that day!
Sullurupeta: The Gateway of Sriharikota!
Sullurupeta Railway Station | Nellore, Andhra Pradesh
On the 7th January of 2019, the journey to Sriharikota began with a bus trip from the nearby Sullurupeta railway station. The presence of this space center over an island on the Bay of Bengal with the Pulicat Lake nearby enriched with the green lushes of flora makes it a catchy spot for nemophilists.
The click from the bus window seat
The group comprising 40 students and 4 teachers after a light breakfast at the Aryabhatta guest house present inside the campus moved ahead to explore this exotic center along with the instructor Ashok Kumar Meher, who then served as the technical officer at SDSC. Before that, we were instructed to leave behind our digital gadgets.
Rocket Models at The Main Entrance of SDSC-SHAR
The bus stopped near an auditorium to watch some introductory videos on this space center and recall the contributions of Dr. Vikram Ambalal Sarabhai, the Father of the Indian space program and Prof. Satish Dhawan after whom this center is named.
A few Group Members and teachers with an SLV Model at Space Museum, Sriharikota
Mission Control Centre
It's a circular establishment inaugurated back in 2012 by then Hon’ble President of India Mrs. Pratibha Devisingh Patil, turned our next stoppage. It hosts multiple display screens to showcase real-time satellite data and a set of computer chairs meant to be occupied by the top-level scientists during the launching preparation days.
There’s also a VVIP audience gallery that hosts the Prime Minister of India and other elites during a launch, which is televised on Doordarshan.
The instructor Mr. Meher guided us through every curious question shot at him with due care of the professional secrecy he had to maintain as an insider.
Mission Control Centre (MCC) | Source:
I was captivated by the name plates displaying Mission Director & Vehicle Director present over two of the monitors inside MCC. As we were informed, these two persons were referred to as the prominent bosses of a space mission.
During the T-15 Mins (15 Mins. Before the launch), if there occurs any criticality with the rocket, these two could take the call for whether to go for the launch or make it delayed.
It might be the dream of many aspirants to lead a mission from this control center & we were fortunate enough to spend nearly half an hour there!
The bus dropped us next near the Launchpad I. As a rocket was in the development stage that day, we were allowed to observe it only from a certain distance.
Stock Photo of Launchpad I From SDSC | Source :
This one is regarded as the oldest and the most reliable Launchpad of ISRO which had India’s successful Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) launched back in Nov 2013 to its credit along with numerous successful missions.
Just standing at that place and observing the assembling process of the rockets was quite a fulfilling experience for me. I was overwhelmed with the sense of respect for those countless unsung scientists who pull their socks and work round the clock in service of mankind.
Stock Photo of Launchpad II From SDSC | Source :
Followed by this, we arrived at Launchpad II, credited with the launch of India’s Moon Mission Chandrayan II in 2019 along with the other ones. Although I had seen the videos of several launches from here on the television screens before the visit, I was blown away by the majestic structure installed by the ISRO.
The nearly 80-meter tall building known as the umbilical tower is used for fuelling & launching the rocket after getting assembled at a building present exactly 1 KM away from that place. The structure is much larger and more dynamic than it appears in the photographs. One must visit here once to perceive this fact!
As there was no space mission under progress on the day of our visit, we had the scope to move to an extremely close area of the launchpad which certainly gets unmanned on the launching days.
A technical setup inside the Space Centre
It's the time to wrap up!
The rest of the journey included the observation of the powerful antennas and radars installed to capture satellite data, checking a model of the rocket and spending a few minutes in the space museum singing the glittering past of this premier space agency.
The inside greenery of the campus
The trip concluded with a meal in the canteen and a few clicks at the main gate of SDSC-SHAR where photography is permitted.
Meanwhile, I ensured every detail of this tour was entered into my diary for the reference in future, along with the autographs of every single person on this trip to freeze these moments for the years to come.
A snapshot of the group at the main entrance before the exit
Probably, any sum couldn’t replace the experience that ISRO had given us in that one single day! If life permits, I’d not hesitate ever to be in that place again!
We were once at that place, where lies the path to break through the limitations of the sky and get into space!
The memories of this still give me goosebumps!