From a home for the tribals, today Sriharikota has become the key centre for India’s space programmes.
It was once the home of Yanadi tribals and a paradise for ornithologists. Today Sriharikota is a busy, world-class spaceport with several launch vehicles, that is, rockets being launched every year. Situated about 100 km from Chennai, Sriharikota is an island that lies in the Bay of Bengal in the east coast.
Eucalyptus and Casuarina groves, and scrub jungles have provided a home to hundreds of native and migratory birds, jackals, wild boar and snakes. When the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) scouted for a suitable location in the 1960s to launch its rockets, an aerial survey revealed that this island was ideal. It was on the east coast. So rockets can take advantage of the earth’s west to east rotation and put heavier satellites in orbit. It was a large unpopulated area and this provided a safety corridor. A road through the waters of the Pulicat lake was laid to connect it to Sullurupeta. The first big rocket to soar into the sky from Sriharikota was SLV-3 (Satellite Launch Vehicle) on August 10, 1979, with a satellite called Rohini.
Today there are two launch pads, a sophisticated Mission Control Centre with a bank of computers where ISRO specialists conduct the launch operations from the countdown till the satellite is put in orbit, a huge facility for making solid propellants that power the launch vehicles, radars to track the rockets and so on.
From 1979 till October 2008, 27 rockets have been sent up from Sriharikota. Prof. Satish Dhawan, former ISRO Chairman, said, “Whenever my work related to the country’s space programme became a little taxing, I went to see the birds at SHAR and came back feeling happy and invigorated.”