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Determination, Perseverance and Grit
Lessons from the life of Dr. Homi Bhaba and India's first space mission
In November 1963, the coastal town of Thumba was experiencing a moderate winter. A handful of scientists looked at a rocket, a rocket lying horizontally on the ground. The counterweight mechanism was damaged beyond repair. Everyone in the group had given up hope, other than Dr. Vikram Sarabhai and Dr. Homi Bhaba.
It was India’s first space mission, and everything was going south. How did a team of less than 30 individuals launch a rocket manually? Read ahead to find out.
Smart people learn from everything and everyone, average ones from experience, stupid ones have all the answers- Socrates
This 30th October, India celebrated the 113th birth anniversary of Dr. Homi Bhabha. While no one person is perfect, learning from successful people is an easy way to achieve the same.
This edition of my newsletter includes my takeaways from the life of Dr. Homi Bhabha which will inspire you to reach for your goals, no matter how high.
“Years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain
Homi Bhaba’s family wanted him to peruse mechanical engineering and work as a metallurgist in Tata. However, his interest lied towards nuclear physics.
Instead of choosing one of the above, he decided to do both. He passed his mechanical engineering tripos with first class honors and then continued perusing his doctorate in nuclear physics. As it turns out, Bhaba did join Tata. The only thing was he didn’t join as a metallurgist, instead as the chairperson of Tata Institution of Fundamental Research.
Success is never found chasing a path carved by someone else, it is found walking in one’s own lane.
While Homi Bhabha’s interest didn’t lie in mechanical, studying it came to use later when he was made the project director of India’s first nuclear project. Metallurgy was something he despised, but when it came to finding and refining uranium ore; guess what metallurgy came to use.
Homi Bhaba’s close friend, Dr. Vikram Sarabhai, helped in sales work in his fathers business. The communication skills helped him in a lot of places, including convincing the pastor of the church of Thumba to let them use that church for rocket launch.
“Good deeds done, knowledge obtained and skills learned seldom go to waste.” - My Mother
Everything we have can be replaced if lost, the same however is not true for time. Our time on Earth is limited and when the day arrives, we will not have an option to postpone it. While never impatient, Homi Bhaba wanted things to be done as efficiently as possible. He also understood that the meaning of life didn’t lie in working all day. He was a frequent patron of restaurants and pubs, loved listening to classical music and could be frequently found in art galleries. While hobbies may vary from person to person, it is important to spend time doing something enjoyable everyday. One of the five regrets mentioned in the book The Top Five Regrets of Dying by Bonnie Ware is not spending enough time doing something enjoyable or with family.
“Life will not postpone our death. So, let us not postpone our life” - Mahātria Rā
“It is always impossible until it isn’t” - Homi Jahangir Bhaba
Now let’s come to the story of India’s first rocket launch.
It is winter of 1963, the counter weight mechanism had failed. The launch could only be done if the rocket reaches an angle of 80 degrees perfectly. A minor error, and the rocket would either crash into the ocean or fly beyond the set orbit and be lost.
There was no time to ship another counterweight mechanism, nevertheless the budget allotted to the project wouldn’t allow it anyway.
This was not the first challenge to the space programmed. It had been an eventful year for Homi Bhaba and Vikram Sarabhai. They had to convince the elected representatives to green light the program. They had to convince the pastor to let them use the church for the launch. Late on they had to ship the rocket in parts from the port to the church by bullock carts and bicycles. They had face many hardships but had not given up. This was not going to be the end… or was it?
The above quotation was what Dr. Bhaba said to a member of the team who had lost his hope. That is when Sarabhai found a solution. They could rig the setup to ropes and pull the rocket to position manually. This was unprecedented and so was everything else about this launch.
The exact details about the setup is more scientifically demanding than I wish to make this particular post but one way or other the rocket was hoisted in position and successfully launched.
Something very simple happened that day, the human determination and grit triumphed over the forces of nature. Everything that could go wrong went wrong, yet on November 21, 1963; Dr. Homi Jahangir Bhaba and Dr. Vikram Sarabhai along with their team launched India’s first rocket.
In the end, the message of the life of Dr. Homi Jahangir Bhaba can be summarized by this quote by Nitin Vijay:
कोई लक्ष्य मनुष्या के साहस से बड़ा नहीं, हारा वही जो लड़ा नहीं No goal is greater than the courage of man, the only one who fails is the one who doesn't try.
Be curious about the world, try to obtain knowledge about everything, carve your own path, aim high, don’t quit, spend time on your hobbies, remember knowledge never goes to waste and keep in mind that it is always impossible until it isn’t.
Thanks for reading,
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