Book Review: India's Rise as a Space Power

Book Review: India's Rise As a Space Power
"INDIA: A Bullock Cart No More"
Prof. U R Rao
(He is one of the pillars of Indian space program)



The book India's Rise as a Space Power is the chronicle of India towards that elite area of technology that most  nations in the world including most of the G-20 do not have even a toehold in. The narration is by a man who has had a ring side seat to the incredible journey that propelled India into that group of 3%. Indeed, U. R. Rao was a ring-master himself for a brief period which happened to be some of the most tumultuous ones from the Indian political perspective. Nevertheless, his starring role and his work under the stewardship of the doyen of the Indian space programme, Dr. Vikram Sarabhai, provides for some compelling stories in a time when India was new and bold and was striding forward towards its tryst with destiny.


The prologue begins with a story of the launch of the first Indian satellite Aryabhata setting the tone for the rest of the book. Unfortunately, it is immediately followed by six pages of acronyms that brings dismay to an excited  reader. However, these pages prove handy later in the book when you will be lost in the maze of organizations, labs, centers and entities that are essential in making a national space program successful.

The first chapter introduces us to the author's background and his first foray in experiments with space - balloons and rockets to perform scientific experiments at higher altitudes. The genesis of the space program and its phenomenal success today lies in the vision and subsequent execution by the father of the Indian space programme, Dr. Vikram Sarabhai. Although this fact is enunciated early on, it gets reinforced again and again later in the book as the Indian journey encounters setbacks of (mostly) man-made design. By Chapter 5, the book has parallels to a high-octane thriller as page after page provides thrills and chills and only when Aryabhata has kissed heights none of us can dream of, does the adrenaline rush reduces to a trickle. The book considerably slows down  afterwards but still remains engaging for the most part.



Image from the book

The book has tremendous amounts of technical detail, so much so that in a few instances one could attempt to build
complete replicas of the machine parts if one needed to. Discussions on how propellant fuel for a SLV is chosen, clearly demonstrates the engineering adage "Engineering is all about compromises". The same is realized when constructing other parts of the satellite or SLVs. Another interesting facet exposed by the book is how political decisions determine eventual outcome of technical projects. For example, early on, when India was only interested in making satellites, USA was our champion. However, as soon as India showed proclivity towards launch vehicles, USA started holding us back and even went to the extent of applying sanctions by the time we became keen on making GSLVs. Closer to home, the author is quite frank with the quality of decisions made. Indeed, some of the disdain shown towards certain people including bureaucrats is quite refreshing. Scattered throughout the book are anecdotes that are not only hilarious but show a light hearted and perhaps a poetic side of these serious-minded individuals. If you don't believe me, read the third paragraph on page 124 of the book.



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