The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Space science in the lord's hands

Hyderabad, May 4: If the rocket crashes tomorrow, blame Lord Balaji.

Indian space scientists placed miniature replicas of the rocket that is set to blast off tomorrow morning from the Sriharikota spaceport and the two satellites it would carry at a shrine to the god for his blessings.

The replicas were taken to the sanctum sanctorum of the reigning deity of the Tirupati Tirumala Dewasthanam and ordained as priests chanted Vedic hymns.

Authorities of the temple in Tirupati in Andhra Pradesh, where the spaceport is located, confirmed that 15 scientists from the Indian Space Research Organisation, led by its chief, Dr G. Madhavan Nair, came to the town yesterday to seek the deity's blessings.

A temple spokesman quoted Nair as saying: 'I am in Tirupati to offer prayers for the success of the launch.'

'I cannot believe they actually did this,' said Prof. Ajay Sood, head of physical sciences at the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore.

'For an individual, going to a temple may be an issue of faith, but to mix the space programme with religion is very wrong,' said Prof. Kasturi Lal Chopra, president of India's Society for Scientific Values and former director of the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur.

Tomorrow's launch is aimed at putting every Indian household on the map. One of the satellites, the 1.5-tonne CARTOSAT-1, mounted with two cameras for 'stereographic' imaging, carries with it the ambitions of India's space programme.

Once lodged into orbit 618 km above earth, the satellite can read images smaller than a motorcar by identifying features down to 2.5 metres across.

The satellite will help urban and rural planning, land and water management, relief operations and environmental assessments.

CARTOSAT-1, which represents the highest payload carried so far by a polar satellite launch vehicle, will also carry a 42.5-kg HAMSAT, a micro-satellite that provides amateur radio services.

The scientists spent almost half an hour in the sanctum sanctorum and later took part in an elaborate ritual for another hour when priests showered ashirvachanam (blessings) of the deity on them.

'Some of the scientists even put currency notes in the temple hundi (container) for the success of the launch,' said the temple spokesman. Sources said the prayers followed astrological predictions that the launch could be delayed.

This is not the first time space scientists have turned to god before an expedition into the distant heavens. Former Isro chief K. Kasturirangan, too, had invoked divine blessings before a launch.

'This practice is in vogue since the days of Kasturirangan,' said D. Narayana Rao, director of the MSP radar station at Tirupati who had organised the temple trip.

Tomorrow's launch is scheduled for 10.19 am when the PSLV C-6 will take off from the newly-built second launch pad, 1.5 km south of the first launch pad in Sriharikota.

President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, who has a scientific background, inaugurated the second launch pad today.

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