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Transported on a Bicycle, Launched from a Church

It was 56 years ago, on November 21, 1963, that a small rocket took off from Thumba on the outskirts of Thiruvananthapuram, announcing the birth of the modern space age in India. The sleepy palm-fringed village soon came to be known as Thumba Equatorial Rocket Launch Station (TERLS) and later became Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre (VSSC).

India’s proud history of rocket science took its baby steps on a bicycle and a bullock cart. In order to be brought to the launch pad, parts of the NASA-made rocket, Nike-Apache, were carried on vehicles.

After much labour, on the eve of November 21, 1963, Nike-Apache blasted off into space from the garden facing St Mary Magdalene Church. The building, which bears the church-like beauty of towers and bells, now houses a space museum, where you cannot walk in with your shoes on. Once you’re inside, you don’t encounter an altar. Instead, you are faced with a fascinating array of rockets, satellites, and details of how the church became a space centre.

the Indian space programme was born in 1963 with the launch of Nike-Apache sounding rockets from Thumba in Thiruvananthapuram. The launch site was named the Thumba Equatorial Rocket Launching Station (TERLS), or India’s first spaceport. During the 1960s, TERLS became an international launch station and the sounding rockets launched from here showed instrumental in studying the equatorial electrojet.

At its heart, the space programme continues to focus on civilian benefits, using space technology to develop the life of the common man. This includes the use of satellites to map and survey crops, assess damage from natural disasters, and bring telemedicine and telecommunication to the remote areas of rural India.

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