It’s been a tradition of the missile team to say a little prayer and even do a ‘puja’ before every major launch. So, soon after Agni V was readied for launch, a pundit was called to the pad itself to invoke God’s blessings. As he chanted the ‘mantras’, senior DRDO scientists, including VK Saraswat and Avinash Chander, squatted on the ground and folded their hands in prayer. At the end of the ‘puja’, they each broke a coconut as part of the ritual to have an auspicious beginning.
The funny guys did it!
Among the earliest callers to congratulate the missile team at the Wheeler Island launchpad was former President APJ Abdul Kalam. Most of the current missile team have worked under Kalam when he was DRDO chief and he is widely acknowledged to have been the man behind India’s earlier missile successes. An emotional DRDO chief VK Saraswat told Kalam, “Sir, the funny guys have done it again.” This was reference to the term ‘Funny Guys’ that Kalam called them when he was DRDO chief, particularly when the team goofed up. So grateful is the missile team of Kalam’s guidance in the past that they plan to send a proposal to the government to rename Wheeler Island as Kalam Island.
The puja in progress before the launch.
Nature shows off
The fickle weather had seen the Agni V launch being postponed on Wednesday night when Nature decided to put up its own dramatic sound and light show. Thunder rolled over the coastline and the night sky was lit up with brilliant streaks of lightning. Watching the display, DRDO chief Vijay Kumar Saraswat, himself a veteran missile man, decided against going ahead with the launch. As he put it, “We are not going to risk India’s most important missile launch.” So the team waited till Thursday morning and only when the weather cleared did they go ahead with the launch.
When 20 minutes felt like 20 years
In terms of speed, the Agni V is unmatchable when compared to other missiles that India has built. Travelling at 24 times the speed of sound, it covered 5,000 km in just 20 minutes. But for VG Sekharan (pic), director of the Advanced Systems Laboratory that put together the missile, “the 20 minutes felt like 20 years”. Sekharan said that there were over 10,000 parts that went into the making of Agni V and anything could have gone wrong at any time. So till the missile accomplished its task, Sekharan had his fingers firmly crossed.
Old is still Gold
Among the finest traditions that DRDO maintains is that its Launch Authorisation Board that gives the missile team the final clearance on the day of the launch. The Board consists of a galaxy of ex-DRDO senior scientists who have contributed to the development of the missile and are invited to attend the launch. In a conference hall near the launchpad, the heads of the key systems present their design and the senior scientists grill them over issues such as back- up, redundancy and safety margins. One scientist who was missed was RN Agarwal, the former Programme Director of Agni. Though invited, he couldn’t make it.
Beer, not champagne, at this party
While cricketers and race car drivers are known to spray champagne to celebrate a major victory, India’s missile team used beer instead. So at the blockhouse, soon after it was announced that Agni V had successfully lifted off, one of them opened a bottle of beer and shook it violently so that the fizz produced sprayed all the senior scientists. As a wag remarked, “We do champagne stuff for the country by spending just beer money!
PS: For those curious about the brand of beer, it was a Thunderbolt!