It was a bright, sunny day at Vikram Sarabhai Space Center (VSSC), Thumba, Kerala. I was there for a brief training programme which saw an excited me rubbing shoulders with the top rocket builders and launchers of India. Towards the end of the training period, I got an opportunity to witness a rocket launch.

I met with the Deputy General Manager at TERLS (Thumba Equitorial Rocket Launching Station) who guided me through the early days of the Indian space programme, about the founder Vikram Sarabhai, and about how before developing our own rockets, we used to launch Soviet rockets. On that day a rocket — the RH-200 was to be launched.

RH-200 is a sounding rocket, used for measuring key atmospheric parameters like wind speed and direction, currents etc. at various altitudes in the upper atmosphere around 75 km above the Earth’s surface. Just a few paces away from the launch pad was a launch room, the place where a person pushes the button for the fuel to ignite and the rocket to launch. I went in and was greeted by a plethora of computer screens and LEDs in that small, dingy room. Still, it seemed an amazing place to work in. I wasn’t allowed into the Launch Control Room for obvious reasons, but I could see what was going on through a large window. A heavily moustached man sat in front of a countdown timer and was regularly announcing the time left before lift-off. As the countdown timer neared the final minute, I went outside the control centre for a better view of the launch. I was standing a mere 100 metres from the brightly painted rocket. As the countdown entered the final 10 seconds, a surge of excitement ran through me. “Three. Two. One,” so announced the man on the PA system. At “Lift-off!”, I saw the RH-200 sounding rocket soar into the vastness of the sky with supersonic speed. A fraction of a second later, I heard the huge boom produced by the launch. It made my hair stand on end. I then rushed back to the control centre where they were beaming the findings obtained by the rocket on big plasma screens.

I was full of a sense of patriotism. I was so proud to experience the progress our great nation has made over the past few decades. Later that day, I searched for brochures and any other informative material I could get my hands on. I couldn’t get much, apart from some car stickers and other cards signifying celestial events like solar and lunar eclipses. But I did eventually find a paper which gave me a timeline of the future developments at ISRO.

As the legendary Niels Bohr put it, “It is hard to predict, especially the future”.

But I can proudly say, that with an ever more aware and talented Gen Next in us coming along, India’s space programme, without doubt, has a bright future.

Prateek Alkesh, XII, Delhi Public School, R. K. Puram, New Delhi