From vadas to Chandrayaans


For a society which has so much faith in the planetary orbits and behavior, we need to push the next generation more towards space science, says Nivedita Louis.

My earliest memory of space science dates back to those days when grandmother dearest showed me the moon and tried to feed me a handful of curd rice. The rice glided inside as I listened to the description of a grand old lady showing up on the moon every night. She used to make tasty vadas, for whom in the moon, no one ever knew. As years flew by, I started confusing astronomy and astrology, promptly comparing the ringed Saturn and Shani, the Bhagwan, who refused to move away from my astrological chart tables. He still sits bang at the middle of any astrological reading, but now I am old enough to understand that He is omnipotent and omnipresent in my astrological profile.

Every time we end up purchasing goodies at the Spar chains, the bill always looks astronomical. Our general knowledge on space and research ends there. We, Indian women, are however, trained astronauts. The salwar suits that we don are made up of burn-proof material that roasts us inside, but keeps our skin fair and lovely. The cars we drive are rockets that always fail to park at the designated orbits. Ask a lady to parallel-park a car and you will know why only twenty percent of ISRO’s work force is women.

The whole world woke up one fine morning to see a bunch of women clad in Kanjeevarams, donning jasmine flowers and eagerly hugging each other and congratulating, on TV. Indian space research had come of age the day this team launched Mangalyaan into space successfully. Till then we were only content with watching saas-bahu soaps where dinner plates were launched into wash basins by irate bahus. Our Prime Minister happily announced, “A one-km auto rickshaw ride in Ahmedabad cost 10 rupees and India reached Mars at 7 rupees per km.” He accepted point blank that our autowallahs actually run their autos on space fuel!

Chandrayaan found water in the moon. I am waiting for the day I would be joining grandma up above the world so high, so I can explain to her that the vada frying old lady accidentally kicked her bucket of water and Chandrayaan discovered it! And oh…our scientists took models of Chandrayaan to Tirupati before launch for divine blessing. In addition to propulsion power, we do have the divine power to go that extra mile! Our trucks zoom in the highways on lemon power, yes, the same lone nimboo that dangles in front of the chassis and our rockets launch into space on laddoo power! It is a real joy to learn Sunita Williams takes the Bhagawad Gita on her space flights, and it doesn’t matter if she is half Slovenian! She is a true bhakt!

Not just rockets and yaans, we have multiple satellites to our credit. Our Resource Sat imagery can generate crop estimates months ahead! No cheating, state governments, Big Uncle can see what grows in your state and how much! Ocean Colour Monitors send accurate data on availability of fish, and fishermen receive density of fish in the sea on mobile apps. Here I am, trying to log into my FB account without a hitch for the nth time.
Dr. Vikram Sarabhai, Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, Kalpana Chawla, Rakesh Sharma, Ravish Malhotra, Madhavan Nair, Moon Man Dr. Mayilsamy Annadurai, K. Radhakrishnan, Missile Woman Dr.Tessy Thomas – the list of inspirational space/research scientists of India and their life stories are nothing short of marvels. There are success stories of men and women all around us, who have catapulted Indian space research into fame and thankfully they are not in our textbooks. I dread the day ten-year-olds would read “Rakesh Sharma’s Soyuz stories”, told Indian text book style and learn it by heart 10 times! Dr. Mayilsamy Annadurai completed his entire education in government schools and colleges, learning in his mother tongue Tamil and so did our Dr. APJ!

We Indians are a confused lot – we pay astronomical sums to our astrologers, but seldom teach space science to our children. I count myself lucky to have laid down on the terrace with my mother and deciphered constellations. In turn, I check constantly for NASA’s tweets and show it to my son. As a nation, we still have a long way to go in space research. Still, the skies are not far, if we give a gentle push to our children to search for knowledge, to look up for the stars and someday, to land up on distant planets.


Nivedita Louis

Nivedita Louis is a writer, blogger and social activist by choice. Bitten by the travel bug, and smitten by nature, she loves travelling and cooking. She blogs at