All through PSLV launch, he posed sharp questions to former ISRO officials

The deep interest of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in rocketry emerged again on Sunday during the successful launch of the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV-C21). He posed sharp questions to the former ISRO Chairman, U. R. Rao and the former Director of the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre in Thiruvananthapuram, B.N. Suresh, at the Mission Control Centre at Sriharikota (SHAR) and was delighted that the rocket put French SPOT-6 and Japanese Proiteres satellites in precise orbit.

Dr. Singh arrived at the Mission Control Centre 40 minutes before the lift-off and sat flanked by Professor Rao and Dr. Suresh. Union Minister V. Narayanasamy replaced either of them at times.

The Prime Minister posed a volley of questions at Professor Rao and Dr. Suresh. He was keen on knowing about the events that took place during the 51-hour countdown and the 14-minute automatic launch sequence that preceded the lift-off, the ignition of the rocket’s four stages and their separation, and what happened to the spent stages. Then he suddenly turned round and asked Dr. Suresh: “Why we are going southward for the remote-sensing orbit?”

He keenly watched the curve on the big plot board that showed the nominal (intended) altitude, velocity and flight path of the rocket. An illuminated dot that popped up at intervals on this predetermined path attracted his attention and he wanted to know what it signified.

The former ISRO officials were quick to inform him that as long as the dot “embraced” the path, it meant that the rocket was on course. If the dot moved off the path, it would mean that the rocket had veered off. “The Prime Minister wanted to know what was happening on the plot board, the green and the red lights that came on there, and the safe-arming [of the rocket] during the pre-launch activities,” Professor Rao said.

Professor Rao explained to him the significance of the remote-sensing satellites travelling from pole to pole and why the communication satellites were put into the equatorial orbit.

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