Today i was very fortunate to have listened to Prof U.R.Rao talk about the early days of INSAT series satellites in India. He is one the eminent personalities to have shaped Indian satellite program. He had come to Nitte Meenakshi Institute of Technology, Bangalore, India to inaugurate the Clean Room facility and the Integration chamber as part of STUDSAT project.
Then Prof Rao was a faculty at MIT. Ms Gandhi was the PM. He had been to Russia to request them to launch the ‘would be’ satellite by Russian rockets. They had agreed to it by had one condition attached to it. They wanted Indian to manufacture a satellite in less than 3 years and it would cost Indian Government cool 3 crores. Ms Gandhi gave the approval when she heard it at the first instance through the telephonic conversation she had with Rao. Beginning of the project faced a major hurdle with the death of the father of Indian space science – Dr. Vikram Sarabhai. But after few years it chugged along . Then began the great journey of setting up the labs and building a team.
Initially they had to choose between Hyderabad and Bangalore. But Bangalore had the edge with its history in Science and Technology. So they got hold of some land around Peenya. They built sheds and started recruiting young scientist at IISC Gymkhana who had not yet heard of satellites. Finally he built a team of around 40. They got hold of a second hand ground station from Australia and set up at Sriharikota. He wanted to build a redundant system so his team built another adhoc station by converting one of the ladies rest room into a ground station at Peenya.
The team managed to build the satellite and the it was launched successfully. They had christened it as Aryabhata as a tribute to the Indian Mathematician who invented Zero. The satellite changed the face of the villages with black and white TV popping up. Buoyed by the socio-economic success, Indian gov went ahead with the rest of the satellites and called it Indian satellites or INSAT .