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Cheers drowned by a loud roar, then silence

This was supposed to be the most exciting Christmas of my life. I was going to see a GSLV rocket blast off.

india Updated: Dec 26, 2010 00:33 IST
KV Lakshmana
KV Lakshmana
Hindustan Times

This was supposed to be the most exciting Christmas of my life. I was going to see a GSLV rocket blast off.

There was a sizeable number of people at the Satish Dhavan Space Centre in Sriharikota. ISRO officials, security personnel, the media and a few invitees had gathered on the rooftop of the centre. Many locals had also gathered on the rooftops of buildings in the area to witness the take off. A couple of people were precariously standing on a high, under-construction water tank nearby.

As the countdown began, the excitement was palpable. All eyes were craned towards the lift-off point, hidden behind a trees, about 4 km away, when, at the count of zero, the tri-coloured rocket, came into sight.

There was a thunderous, ear-splitting rumble as soon as the rocket rose gently into the sky from behind the thick forest, accompanied, almost at once, by loud clapping and cheering.

Isro's failed missions

December 25, 2010: GSLV-F06 launch unsuccessful due to snag in stage-1
April 15, 2010: GSLV-D3 developmental flight carrying GSAT4 onboard. Failure. Plunges into sea.
July 10, 2006: Second flight of GSLV-F02 with INSAT-4C onboard. Satellite could not be placed in orbit. Rocket falls into sea.
September 20, 1993: First developmental launch of PSLV with IRS-1E on board. Satellite could not be placed in orbit.
July 13, 1988: Second developmental launch of ASLV with SROSS-2 onboard. Satellite could not be placed in orbit.
March 24, 1987: First launch of ASLV with SROSS-1 satellite on board. Satellite could not be August 10, 1979: First launch of SLV-3 with Rohini Technology Payload onboard. Satellite could not be placed in the orbit.

The scattered white clouds against the clear blue sky was the perfect backdrop for the zooming rocket.

"It's a success, it's a success," shrieked an ISRO official, with his school-going son in tow.

I could see people atop nearby buildings also waving and cheering. Another proud moment for the country, I thought.

Within seconds, though, the deafening roar began to taper off. The rocket was twisting and turning — like it had lost control. Soon, it was torn to smithereens, and the colour of smoke changed from white to brown and then black. It was all over in 26 seconds. I could see splinters falling in different directions.

The shocked gathering looked on. "The fuel must have leaked from the engine and caught fire," someone said.

"Son, it has failed," I overheard a disappointed invitee telling his son over a mobile phone.

Back at the launch centre, two giant screens at the area, where the post-launch press conference was to be held, showed images of shocked,anxious and nervous scientists peering into computer screens.

Several were seen gesticulating to one another, seemingly agitated as to what could have gone wrong.

M Satish, a Class 6 student in Sriharikota town, whose father works with ISRO, was most disappointed.

"It was like a Diwali rocket gone bad," he told his father.

First Published: Dec 26, 2010 00:29 IST