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Tuesday, August 20, 2013

'The Bicycle Era' Of India's Space Journey [2015.08.18: Fixed Broken URL]

Pedalling its way to the "Space Club", quite literally.

The iconic picture, of the nose cone of an Indian rocket being transported on a bicycle, has been an enduring symbol of India's Space programme, whose aims has been to attain, that which is highest, for the benefit & upliftment of society. This, it started with virtually nothing, except for the infallible belief of India's Scientific & Technological visionaries & Karmayogis. The contrasting image of a "hi-tech" rocket sitting atop a humble bicycle provides an apt metaphor for this vision. The July 1980 issue of Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre's [VSSC] in-house publication, Countdown, has an interesting article, highlighting the role of the poor man's mode of transportation in turning the wheels of the country's Space ambitions. Reproducing it here, with added emphasis. A fine human interest story.

"To the mobility conscious "Thumbite", particularly for an old timer, who is here since the early sixties, the bicycle brings moments of nostalgia that speak of the history of the ISRO itself. Those were days [1963-1966] when the progress of the Thumba station was controlled by a single vehicle. A green coloured standard van was the work horse that ferried mail, people coffee stores and chemicals. There was no point within the Trivandrum city limits that was not touched by this remarkable vehicle - provided there was a road to go.

All other movements were the monopoly of the bicycle, specially on the campus. The Heads of Divisions would all have their bicycles reserved for "inspection rounds" during fixed time slots. They would hop on to it and pedal off to distance places in the hot sun; mercifully the roads were level, for the Veli Complex was yet to emerge. At other times, the rest of the staff would put the bicycles to all earthly uses that even the manufacturers could hardly conceive.
The "central" cycle stand existed at the "School Building" (now RSR junk yard) from where trunk routes lead to the transmitter building in the north, canteen in the south gate, telemetry, radars and Kulathoor tea shops to the east. The bicycle simply monopolised these routes. In fact, it carried all things, even payloads for rockets. While the Prime Minister was dedicating TERLS to the United Nations, a bicycle carried the precious payload from transmitting building in the north to the vehicle assembly area.
It was after this that the onslaught of Ambassadors and shuttle buses began. Veli hills became part of the scene and put an end to the era of level roads and short rides. This simple bicycle was overtaken by the fuel thirsty automobiles."