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How A DMK Minister Frustrated Vikram Sarabhai’s Plans For A Rocket Launch Pad In Tamil Nadu

The Chandrayaan 2 atop the GSLV-MKIII launch vehicle. (pic via Twitter)
Snapshot
  • Chandrayaan 2 would probably take off from Tamil Nadu if a politician hadn’t irritated Vikram Sarabhai and let Andhra Pradesh host the country’s only rocket launch pad.

There is hardly anyone in the nation now who hasn’t heard of Sriharikota. For this barrier island was what had the entire country glued to its screens as ISRO’s second moon mission, Chandrayaan 2 was launched from India’s only launch site Satish Dhawan Space Centre located here.

But this could very well have been Tamil Nadu’s pride if only the co-founder of Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) K A Mathiazhagan hadn’t damaged its prospects.

As Nambi Narayan narrates in his book Ready To Fire: How India and I Survived the ISRO Spy Case, the DMK leader’s behaviour and demands is what cost Tamil Nadu a golden opportunity to host India’s only rocket launch pad. Here is an excerpt:

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“Not many know that Sriharikota itself was not ISRO’s first choice for a launch pad. I was one of the few sites identified by senior ISRO scientist R M Vasagam, another being a place south of Nagapattinam. Both were in Tamil Nadu. For launching polar satellites, it was clear to us, our launch pad has to be on the eastern coast. Launching the rocket along the spin of the earth, it gave a huge advantage of cost; also by manouevring the rocket to the south after its initial eastward journey, we avoid flying over any landmass. The coastline of Kanyakumari was considered in the late 1960s, but a terrible mishandling by the government of Tamil Nadu, and a timely pitch by Andhra Pradesh, made Sriharikota happen.

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister C N Annadurai was to participate in a discussion with Saraabhai and a few scientists and officials over the identification of a site from a shortlist proposed by Vikram Sarabhai. Annadurai could not attend the meeting because of severe shoulder pain, and he deputed Mathiyazhagan, one of his minister, for the meeting. Sarabhai was kept waiting, and after sometime, the minister was ‘brought’ to the meeting - with a few holding him from falling.

The politician irritated Sarabhai no end with his impossible demands and incoherence. Much before the meeting got over, Sarabhai had decided Tamil Nadu is not the place to be.”

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Excerpt from ‘ Ready To Fire: How India and I Survived the ISRO Spy Case’, by Nambi Narayanan and Arun Ram, Bloomsbury India, April 2018.

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