How India conquered space

Updated: 28 August, 2020 09:02 IST | Jovita Aranha | Mumbai

Relive the incredible story of our fascinating space saga, its heroes and challenges in a new engaging podcast narrated by Harsha Bhogle

Chandrayaan-2 lifts off from Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh in July 2019. Pic/ PTI
Chandrayaan-2 lifts off from Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh in July 2019. Pic/ PTI

April 4, 1984, marked a historic day for India as the first Indian in space, donning a white spacesuit and glass visor floated miles above the Earth. From the Soviet space station Salyut 7, Squadron Leader Rakesh Sharma communicated with the then Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi at the Doordarshan studios in New Delhi. When asked by Gandhi how India looked from outer space, Sharma echoed the lines of Allama Muhammad Iqbal's Tarana-e-Hind saying, "Saare jahan se acha [the best in the universe]."

This momentous conversation opens the newly-launched Spotify original by ATS studio, Mission ISRO narrated by famed commentator Harsha Bhogle. The podcast dropped its first episode last week and we must say that it is one of the more spectacular audio stories we've heard in a while. It draws the listener in with a range of elements from Bhogle's incredible style and diction to snippets of rare audios from the archives and lesser-known aspects from the lives of visionaries like Dr Vikram Sarabhai and Mumbai's very own Dr Homi Jehangir Bhabha.

If you love classic underdog stories, this saga as Bhogle puts it 'with elements of a good thriller, an action-packed opening, affable protagonists, unforeseen twists, a ticking clock and a world-class ending,' will wow you. It brings to the table the humble beginnings of the Indian space dream when launching a space programme was considered too ambitious. The country lacked resources and expertise, but never stopped dreaming. The rest is history.

Harsha Bhogle
Harsha Bhogle

When asked if he was a space enthusiast while growing up, Bhogle says, "I am from a generation that read the newspaper from beginning to end. We were part-time quizzers who followed Apollo 11 with wide eyes, felt the pain of Apollo 13, knew of Yuri Gagarin and space dog Laika."

He illustrates how he was uncertain how a 12-part series on a country's space programme would translate, but one look at the script, and he knew it would work. "This Indian space story has scientists as heroes and for someone who grew up seeing his father look up to scientists, this was heart-warming. It is a thrilling story that Indians must hear with pride."

ISRO has been extensively covered in pop culture. So what sets this podcast apart, we ask Bhogle. "Quite simply, how they braved the odds and believed in themselves. India was a poor but vibrant country then, and for people to dream big rather than get bogged down by the reality of colonialism that had plundered them is so uplifting."

A testimony to this spirit is the striking anecdote of Thumba, he adds. For those of you who don't know, Thumba, then a sleepy fishing village, near Trivandrum in Kerala became the hub of India's space programme. If you look online, you'll be amazed at rare black-and-white photos of people carrying rockets on bicycles and bullock carts. The podcast is a treasure trove of many such stories.

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First Published: 28 August, 2020 07:38 IST

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