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From BrahMos to MOM: Behind India's tech triumphs

Posted: 03 Oct 2014     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Mangalyaan  MOM  BrahMos  space mission 

By now, many people have already heard about the Mars Orbiter Mission. Mangalyaan was the country's first attempt to a send a mission to the Red Planet, and it was completed on a very low budget.

But did you know that India has also developed the fastest supersonic cruise missile? The BrahMos (named for two rivers, the Brahmaputra in India and the Moskva in Russia) was born out of a joint venture between the two countries and is said to be three times faster than subsonic missiles such as the Tomahawks.

Did you know that India also pioneered the world's first war rocket way back in the 1790s? When the American national anthem tells about "the rocket's red glare, the bombs bursting in air," it refers to none other than this Indian rocket, which the British took from Tipu Sultan, the king of Mysore, after his defeat. The British improved upon it and used it against Napoleon and the American colonists. Incidentally, two of these rockets are displayed in the Royal Artillery Museum in London.



Or did you know that the theory of gravity was explained by the Indian mathematician and astronomer Bhaskaracharya (1114-1184) about 500 years before Isaac Newton came up with it? In the Surya Siddhant, he makes this note on the force of gravity: "Objects fall on earth due to a force of attraction by the earth. Therefore, the earth, planets, constellations, moon and sun are held in orbit due to this attraction."

Well, the Mangalyaan mission has certainly carved a distinguished spot for the nation in the global space/technology community. But so have several others, says Sivathanu Pillai, the main architect for the BrahMos missile and a member of the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) team that launched the Mangalyaan. He spoke to EE Times about the lesser-known Indian space odyssey that began in the 1980s.

Walk down memory lane

Hailing from the southern Indian town Nagercoil, Pillai traces his journey back to being a hard-working kid at school. In addition to attending school, he helped his mother sell milk, and he went on evening rounds to collect the money. In school, he scored 100 per cent in math on his way to becoming an outstanding student in his electrical engineering course.


Mangalyaan (Source: Indian Space Research Organization)

"When I was a student at an engineering college in Madurai," another small town in southern India, "Dr. Vikram Sarabai, considered to be the pioneer of Indian space programmes, visited the students' exhibition at the Indian Science Congress where we had participated," Pillai said. "He appreciated the work I did and gave me a hug and said I was a bright boy and would have a great future. The experiment we had showcased was an electrical time switch which can be programmed to operate multiple gadgets during the time required. In 1968, that concept was just not there."

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